CROTHERSVILLE

After spending several years in law enforcement, Russ Sanders decided to make a career switch.

He liked being a policeman and serving communities, but he developed an interest in becoming a teacher and went back to college to earn an education degree.

Sanders retired from teaching two years ago but this year found out about an opening for a science teacher at Crothersville Junior-Senior High School, applied and was hired.

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His first day in front of a new batch of students was Tuesday. Crothersville was the first Jackson County school district to begin the new school year.

“This is a small school,” he said. “I’m used to teaching in a great big school. Hopefully, behavior-wise, they’ll be better to work with.”

The staff has been welcoming, too.

“The people here have been great to me, and I’m looking forward to working with them,” he said. “Everybody has been really nice.”

David Schill, principal of the junior-senior high school, reported a good start to the school year. He expected to have around the same number of students in Grades 6 through 12 as last year, about 280. The elementary school, located in the same building, has similar numbers, putting the corporation around 600 students.

Sanders, a Wabash native and 1975 graduate of Northfield High School, earned an associate degree in law enforcement from Vincennes University in 1977. He then held the titles of deputy marshal and town marshal in Nashville.

In the early 1990s, he began classes at Indiana University to earn a degree in biology and education.

“Every (police) department I worked for, I was always designated the training officer, so that aspect of it I liked,” he said. “I liked teaching the other officers. I thought I was pretty good at it, so I decided then to go ahead and get my teaching degree, go back to school.”

Sanders said it was an interesting experience being older than typical college students.

“Actually, it was pretty good because what I thought was funny, I was so much older than the young students, they all thought I knew the answers, and they would come to me expectingme to know the answers,” he said. “I did have a lot of street knowledge that helped me a lot in my classes.”

Sanders wound up in Switzerland County, where he held full-time jobs as a police officer and a teacher. He earned his master’s degree from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2000.

Two years ago, he retired after 10 years of teaching at Pike Township schools in Indianapolis.

Now that he’s back in the classroom, it’s his 18th year of teaching. At Crothersville, he is teaching biology and earth science.

“I like animals, and I like the human body and studying it and passing that knowledge on to others,” he said. “Students are curious, and I’m pretty much a realist, so I tell it just like it is, and I think they appreciate it.”

High school transition

Yasmine Thomas was among the students in Sanders’ class to begin the day Tuesday. The freshman is making the transition from middle school to high school.

“I think it’s going to be kind of different because whenever you’re in middle school, being in eighth grade last year, you’re like the big kids in middle school,” she said. “Then you’re going into high school and you’re going to be like, ‘I don’t know any of these people, really.’”

But she realized it was just the first day of school and she would have plenty of time to meet new people.

“Everybody around here is really friendly, and it’s just easy to get along with the teachers here because you can bond with them easily,” she said. “It’s really a good school.”

Students spent the first couple of hours Tuesday divided into dens, where teachers went over student handbooks, read the rules and helped students with their schedules and locker assignments.

Testing program

The junior-senior high school has a couple of changes this year. One is starting a pretest and post-test system in all classes. This week, students will take a pretest in each class to find out where they are and get an idea of where they are going, Schill said.

The post-test will come at the end of the year as a way for students and teachers to assess progress. It will help in tailoring curriculum and instruction for students, Schill said.

“Because of our size, we have a lot of advantages to try to make things a little more individualized, but yet, we do have a broad range of academic abilities in each class,” he said. “We want to try to do as much as we possibly can to individualize instruction. It can never be perfect, but the more individual attention that we can give to each student, the better they are going to perform.”

A change also was made to the reading program. Students did silent sustained reading every day in the past, but it’s once a month this year.

Students will have access to a couple of websites with current event articles that are curriculum-related and offered in three different levels of reading ability. They then will write a synopsis to help prepare them for end-of-course assessments and the ISTEP+ test.

“We want to help improve their reading comprehension and their ability to communicate in a written fashion,” Schill said.

Schill said if it’s found to be beneficial to read more often, a change would be made.

“I think the kids will like it because it will be tailored to their abilities and it will be articles of interest based upon the classes that they take,” he said. “The teachers and staff will like it because there is a degree of accountability with it in the writing of the paper. It will make it worthwhile for both parties.”

More technology

The elementary school also is experiencing changes, including third-graders having iPads through the 1:1 initiative. Fourth- and fifth-graders already had iPads, so now all grades that take the ISTEP+ test will have them.

“This is a big deal because obviously, that enhances instruction and learning big time,” Principal Chris Marshall said. “Our teachers do a great job of tapping into the World Wide Web and Apple apps, educational apps and all of that.”

Fourth- and fifth-graders will still use the flipped classroom concept, where through the use of iPads homework is completed in the classroom and daily lessons are learned at home via videos.

Parents can help their children at home. Then the next day at school, those still struggling can work with the teacher in small groups, while others can do a quick review test before moving on.

Engagement is the biggest reason for putting technology in kids’ hands, Marshall said. He gave kudos to Superintendent Terry Goodin and the school board for providing technology to students.

“We’re going to pursue the eLearning option that the Indiana Department of Education offers, so to really do that effectively, we want to get a tablet in every student’s hands,” he said.

The next phase will be equipping kindergartners through second-graders with iPad minis. Marshall said he’s unsure if that will be implemented this school year.

Preschool designation

Also, Crothersville has offered preschool for four years and currently has the Paths to QUALITY Level 3 designation. Marshall said the school is working toward Level 4. The designation allows the school to accept vouchers from low-income families who qualify for the On My Way Pre-K program.

This is the school’s first year involved in On My Way Pre-K, and it has an opportunity to apply for grant money through the program.

From preschool to fifth grade, Marshall said enrollment should be about 285.

“We believe we have a great school to offer to the county,” he said. “There are a lot of neat things happening again this year.”

Schill also said he is looking forward to a good school year.

“About two weeks into the summer after the kids are gone, I start looking forward to them coming back,” he said. “They keep it going. We have a good bunch of kids and a good school, and it’s enjoyable to work here and to come here and deal with the school, especially the kids.”

At a glance

Crothersville Community School Corp. was the first in Jackson County to begin the 2015-16 school year. The first day for students for Tuesday.

Here’s when other county schools begin:

Seymour: Monday, Aug. 10

Trinity Lutheran: Monday, Aug. 10

Brownstown Central: Tuesday, Aug. 11

Medora: Tuesday, Aug. 11

Seymour Christian Academy: Tuesday, Aug. 18

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.