Several years ago, Chesterton High School Assistant Principal Kevin Zeck was
part of a group who believed the Duneland School Corporation could see
itself rise to a level of excellence that many school districts would
typically be too afraid to try for.
The group convinced the school board in 2005 there was enough determination
to begin a District Accreditation Process that aimed to bring the nine
Duneland schools in line with a common goal.
Charged with a mission of “developing lifelong learners who demonstrate
responsibility, contribute to their community, and succeed in a changing
world,” the Duneland AdvancEd Steering Committee made up of Duneland
Superintendent of Schools Dirk Baer, assistant superintendents, parents,
teachers and a district internal review team known as DIRT began to work
toward the common goal of providing programs and opportunities for students
to rise to their potential.
“Think of nine different businesses pulling them in one direction. That’s
what we are trying to do,” said Zeck who presented the report at the most
recent Duneland School Board meeting.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Monte Moffett said before
accreditation the schools were like “nine islands” which had some “really
nice goals” but were not unified.
Accreditation brought a focus for the schools to work together towards a
common goal, Moffett said. “If you can get on the same page, it is much more
sticks with DIRT
After deciding to keep the name DIRT which often prompts a few laughs, the
team’s main purpose is “to help drive guiding focus on our new action plan
and in such ongoing accreditation,” said Zeck.
Consisting of Zeck, Moffett, elementary teacher Sandy Campbell, elementary
principal Michael Grubb, intermediate teacher Natalie Loden, intermediate
principal Greg Guernsey, middle school teacher Christine Bullock, middle
school principal Mike Megyesi, and high school teacher Chris Hackett, DIRT
meets with all schools on a yearly basis along with its goal committees to
ensure they are in compliance with AdvancEd standards.
DIRT will ask each school how it has been using student data to accomplish
its goals and ask them to give what their successes and obstacles are. DIRT
is the entity that bears the responsibility for making sure schools are
meeting those standards in a way that best suits the community, Zeck said.
After hearing reports, DIRT then issues to each school a list of
recommendations and required actions to follow to improve on shortcomings.
For the entire school corporation, DIRT offered accolades for its
leadership. The report also complimented school leaders for helping pass
last May’s referendum. “The process demonstrated a collaborative effort by
all stakeholder groups,” it said.
Suggestions for improvement include establishing “intentional” opportunities
for students to participate in computer-based assessments and continue to
monitor the Response to Intervention (RtI) program and high-ability
initiatives. Actions requiring attention instruct the DSC to provide more
professional development opportunities to teachers and coordinate grading
and scoring practices to become more consistent among the schools.
Strides in technology during the accreditation process include hiring a
district technology director and constructing a five-year road map on
technology infrastructure and use.
Parent communication has improved over the last five years through
web-pages, online learning opportunities, RDS parent access, Good as Gold
and Distinctly Duneland publications, and automated phone calls.
In order to further a collaborative environment in the DSC, Zeck said the
group’s focus is to include involvement by all stakeholder groups (parents,
teachers, staff, community, etc.). With stakeholders, the process is guided
by the community more than the schools.
“We seek however to continue to build partnerships with the local community
and parents to find ways to be more efficient with our resources. It gains
better support for all programs across the district. Duneland is a community
and the schools realize they are just one part of that greater picture,”
In 2012, AdvancEd surveys were conducted in the spring and fall to gauge
each Duneland school’s focus on school leadership, instructional techniques,
two-way communication, school improvement practices and safety issued.
Having visited other schools, Zeck and Moffett said Duneland shows strength
in its ability to involve all the committees’ in the corporation’s
Coming up next month, a five-member AdvanceEd review team will spend four
days, Feb. 3-6, reviewing Duneland on five AdvanceEd standards.
The review team members are from other schools or corporations that have
been accredited by AdvanceEd, Zeck said.
They will meet initially with administrators on the first day, hold
interviews with school board members, stakeholders and staff (from cooks to
bus drivers) over the following two days, visiting four different DSC
schools, and then give an exit report providing a ranking of performance on
standards. A written report will arrive about two months later announcing
the accreditation results.
Moffett said after the previous review in 2008, Duneland was told by the
review team that the school district was “right on point” with the
accreditation standards and is expecting similar results this time around.
“There is nothing that we are going to put away or hide. We lay all the
cards on the table,” he said.
A new plan
The steering committee has already created a new five-year action plan that
will take them to 2018. Goals set include improving the DIRT process, gather
more student data, continually work toward and make more time for
professional development, make better use of resources and maintain the
integrity of the organization, and establish a setting that promotes
educational opportunities for the students.
As for the individual goal committees, Zeck said the C-DIRT committee will
focus on bully prevention and awareness by educating all stakeholders on how
to define differences between harassment and bullying. Also, providing
additional support services to deal with these issues as they arise, such as
the middle school Students Helping Others program, and methods of ongoing
support to both victims and bullies after events occur are other ways for
the committee to effectively reach this goal.
The Volunteer Involvement Program committee, formally called the Family and
Community Team, will be focused first on finding ways to document volunteer
hours in the schools, then set annual goals to meaningfully increase them to
benefit student programs and learning.
The District Technology Goal committee will be moving on its next phase of
technology integration by having students use technology for learning on a
more frequent basis.