New Tech will reboot Calumet High School

July 1, 2010

We all are quite familiar with the challenges schools have these days. Money, program cuts and our students ill prepared for the next phase of life in a new world paints a grim picture with not a lot of options.

Some Northwest Indiana schools are rated among the worst in the state, with graduation rates of just 57.1 percent in Gary and 55.7 percent in East Chicago. It was recently reported where East Chicago had a dramatic 31.87 percent increase in test scores. They are to be commended for the effort, but we still have a long way to go. And that brings up the question, are we teaching to a test or teaching to prepare our students for the real world?

Calumet High School was among Indiana’s failing schools with a graduation rate of 63.8 percent and on the fifth year of probation. Drawing from a portion of Gary and unincorporated Calumet Township, it has a student population with 85 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunches. What do the kids, teachers and administration have to look forward to? Low scores? Limited resources? Limited opportunity?

Well, thanks to the efforts of Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley, Principal Tim Pivarnik, New Tech Director Cynthia Mose-Trevino and teachers at Calumet, that opportunity might be limited to only the willingness of the student to succeed.

Calumet High School is among a handful of schools across Indiana and the nation starting transformation to a “New Tech” high school this fall. “What we do know is that what we have been doing is not working,” says fairly new principal Pivarnik. He is right!

Pivarnik adds he believes the “New Tech” is the start of revolutionizing the Calumet school system in how it teaches and how students learn. And from my investigation, I think he is right. The “New Tech” way of teaching allows students to learn in an all-inclusive team environment using technology consistent with what they will actually use in the real world. They develop the life skills and accountability that will be expected of them in the work force.

Am I 100 percent certain this is the solution to a better education? No, I am not. But what I am 100 percent certain of is that what many of our schools have been doing isn’t working, thus my hat is off to Dr. Johnson-Shirley, Principal Pivarnik and Director Mose-Trevino for the ambition and guts to do radical things to give their students a chance to be successful.

This isn’t to say that all schools are failing. We have many standout schools that are developing their own versions of “New Tech” as they have the money and resources to provide that environment to their students. That is not the case in low-income, financially strapped school systems, which makes the bold move made by the Calumet team all that more impressive.

What Calumet High School does need is a long list of new or used equipment that will give their students the best possible chance to succeed. They don’t need junk, but anything else new or used is greatly appreciated. I have attached a “wish list” of items they need. I plan to pony up $10,000, and I have asked the Lee Foundation, affiliated with the parent of The Times, to match it to purchase some of the laptops needed — but the need is greater than we can meet alone.

After seeing the Calumet “New Tech” presentation, Peoples Bank CEO David Bochnowski has offered to set up free accounts at all locations where individuals or organizations can donate money. Peoples Bank also threw in $5,000 to start the fund.