The ‘fresh start’s’ conclusion

May 15, 2011

Editor’s note: This school year, The Times embarks on a project, the first of its kind in Northwest Indiana, to follow Calumet and Hammond high schools, which are on academic probation. Each Monday, The Times will publish an account.

CALUMET TWP. | Most Calumet High School teachers believe they’ve made progress this school year. From the introduction of New Tech with a focus on project-based learning for freshmen and sophomores to the inception of the 8-Step Learning Process, teachers believe it has been a busy and productive year.

Teacher Dan Brugioni said it has been a tough year, with lots of pressure and lots of transient students coming in at low levels.

“The fact is that we’re making progress with our students. We’re changing the culture here, and we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

Math teacher Codey Mack said the entire year has felt like one, giant sprint, molding New Tech with the 8-Step process with student success time and “oh yeah,” don’t forget about ECA (end-of-course assessments).

The 8-Step process focuses on continuous academic improvement through data-based decision making and collaboration between teachers. Success classes refer to sessions where students get an opportunity to spend an extra half-hour brushing up on the basics like English and math to get ready for state testing.

The latest Indiana Department of Education report based on a visit April 18 pointed out the good and the bad.

Lake Ridge Schools Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley and Calumet High Principal Tim Pivarnik said the report revealed valuable data for continuous school improvement, as well as recognizing the drastic improvements the district has accomplished since the department’s visit in October 2009.

“We were encouraged to continue working on the initiatives that we have instituted, but to keep working to improve levels of instruction and add more rigor within our classrooms,” Shirley said.

English teacher Charmaine Wierzbicki said she doesn’t agree with everything in the report. She said there is much more that’s going on in the school than state officials can see in a day’s visit.

“They encouraged us to start something brand new,” she said of the New Tech program established this school year.

“Anytime you’re learning a new process, it takes time,” Wierzbicki said. “I know it will be amazing. Growth takes time. We’re far from experts. Dustin (Nelson) and I just became certified New Tech teachers, and it took a while to get there. I just hope the  state gives us the time it will take to truly develop it into the quality program it can be.”

Wierzbicki is a strong supporter of project-based learning and will train other teachers as New Tech expands to the junior and senior levels next fall.

“I believe this process can help students. I hope they will give us the time to prove that New Tech will do what it says it can do,” she reiterated.

In addition to the need to improve test scores, attendance and graduation rates, Calumet teachers say they deal with dozens of issues in a day that could affect student performance, Wierzbicki said, referring to the case of a former Lake Ridge student who was found dead May 4.

“You only know about the (Christian) Choate case because someone died,” she said as she teared up talking about a family the school community knows well.

“What you don’t know is that a quarter of our students live in that kind of environment,” she said, adding sometimes its difficult for students to concentrate on testing when they may have challenges at home, something Wierzbicki said state officials don’t seem to grasp.