wo schools in Jackson County are celebrating their designation as a Four Star school.
Cortland Elementary, the smallest school in the Seymour Community School Corp., and Trinity Lutheran High School are among 281 Hoosier schools to receive the honor this year.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced the list April 28.
“Winning this award is a testament to the excellent work done by teachers, administrators, students and parents throughout the year,” Ritz said.
This marks the second time in three years Trinity has received Four Star status. It was the only Four Star school named in the county in 2013.
The Indiana Department of Education first made private schools eligible for the award in the 2009-10 school year.
“Certainly, we are very proud to receive this honor again; and although it is just a measure of one part of what we do, it does reaffirm for us that the students here continue to succeed academically,” Trinity Principal Dan Sievert said.
To achieve the designation, a school must score in the 25th percentile in English and math on the ISTEP+ exam or on the high school end-of-course assessments in English and algebra. Additionally, a qualifying school must have earned an A in the state’s accountability system and be accredited by the Indiana Department of Education.
This year’s award is based on the 2013-14 school year.
During that year, 54 of the 58 students (93.1 percent) at Cortland passed both English/language arts and the math portions of the ISTEP+ exam.
Cortland has received the Four Star rating in the past, but Principal Diane Altemeyer wasn’t sure which year.
“In my closest estimation, it would have been between 2007-09,” she said.
Other area schools that have received the Four Star award in recent history include Emerson Elementary in Seymour, Crothersville Elementary School and Freetown Elementary School, which closed in 2010. Brownstown Central High School earned the honor last year.
Altemeyer said it’s nice to receive the recognition from the state, but the scores just show that Cortland teachers are doing their job and students are learning at a high level, she added.
“I think the Cortland staff have one goal in mind, to give our students the best educational experience possible; and perhaps this award suggests we have succeeded in some measure,” she said.
Altemeyer said she is proud of the collaborative atmosphere and ownership that all staff show at Cortland.
“The mix of students, teachers and parents all working toward a common goal makes Cortland special,” she said. “It truly takes everyone to uphold their interest in the child’s education, and we have the perfect mix here.”
Cortland teacher Wayne Woodard said the community is really what makes Cortland a Four Star school.
“I still believe parents are the number one factor in how their kids turn out,” he said. “So many of our students come to kindergarten having already attended preschool. Many of our students have extended families and have grandparents that often help in assisting with academic and social development.”
Woodard, who teaches fifth grade, has taught at Cortland for more than 10 years and has been with Seymour Community Schools for nearly 20 years.
“I think the staff overall here at Cortland often blends tried and true practices while blending in some technology and more modern teaching practices,” he said. “I hope we never get away from things that have always worked.”
At Trinity, 30 of 35 students (85.7 percent) passed the English and Algebra I end-of-course assessment in 2013-14.
Trinity senior Sydney Stuckwisch said she’s not surprised by her school’s success.
“I really think the education here is top-notch,” she said.
But Stuckwisch said Trinity has more qualities than just high test scores.
She transferred to the school during her freshman year and plans to attend Franklin College in the fall to study applied mathematics.
“We have small class sizes, and our teachers take a personal interest in each and every one of us,” she said of Trinity. “They make sure we understand what’s being taught so that we do have high test scores.”
Social studies teacher John Anderson, who has taught at the school since 2001, said the staff is “strong, dedicated, committed and accountable to the students.”
With a dedicated resource teacher, the school is able to work one-on-one with students who might be struggling academically while still teaching all students, he said.
The smaller class sizes also help in identifying and addressing issues, he added. Smaller schools typically score higher on standardized tests, he said.
“It’s less overwhelming for students, and it’s a family atmosphere where we all support each other,” he said. “We really get them the help they need.”
Trinity enrolls students in a wide range of academic levels, and the teachers focus on the needs of each individual learner to achieve growth, Sievert added.
“There is a good amount of focus on academic growth, but much attention is also given to preparing them for their future in ways that cannot be measured,” he said. “The smaller class sizes create the opportunity for our teachers to become very familiar with each student’s needs, which aids them in developing an individual plan for success.”
Anderson said parents also play a big role in the students’ and school’s success.
“Parents are very supportive of what we are doing,” he said.
English teacher Michelle Bauman said Trinity’s most defining characteristic is that teachers are not only invested in the academic achievement of each student but also in their spiritual, social, physical and emotional well-being.
“I think that investment is key,” she said. “We pray with and for our students, both while they are attending Trinity and long after they leave. We mentor them. And we don’t give up. Our students know we care about them and that we’re working to help them.
“When students know teachers care about them personally, they’re not afraid to ask for help,” she added. “And they’re often eager to work hard and be successful.”
Stuckwisch said Trinity helps students build character by allowing them to be involved in numerous clubs, sports and activities.
“Really, anything you want to do, you can be a part of it,” she said. “I think that’s what makes us such a close-knit school. Everyone gets along, and we’re like a family.”