Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

August 1, 2013

GCS superintendent looks to the year ahead

By Rob Cox Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — “There are always changes and always challenges; some you can control and some you can’t. If you do things right, there are always successes and there are always celebrations.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Greensburg Community Schools (GCS) Superintendent Tom Hunter sounded like a man expecting many triumphs when he offered the above quote as part of his outlook on the new school year (which opened today).

True to that philosophy, a handful of significant changes are coming to GCS in the new year, and Hunter detailed those, telling the Daily News the district will welcome 30 new staff members for 2013-2014.

Those new faces, he said, will run the gamut of job types and will include teachers, custodians, cooks and teacher’s assistants. Of special note, Hunter added, are the additions of a new band director, and a new AG teacher and FFA sponsor at Greensburg Community High School (GCHS).

Chuck Alfrey, former band director at East Central High School in Dearborn County, steps into the spot vacated by the outgoing Matt Clifford.

“East Central had been one of the best band departments in the state under Chuck,” Hunter said. “We look forward to him coming to Greensburg and doing the same here.”

Clifford, meanwhile, becomes the new principal at Greensburg Junior High School (GJHS).

“Any change in leadership at a building will be a big change in the climate at that building,” Hunter said. “I know Matt’s worked very, very hard in the last month or so to make sure everything’s going to be in place to have a successful school year.”

Rich McGown steps in as GCHS’s new AG teacher and FFA sponsor, replacing the outgoing Quinn Wicker, who returned to her hometown Rushville to teach.

Hunter described McGown, who comes from Triton Central in Shelby County, as “a very experienced AG teacher” who’s “recognized as one of the top AG teachers in the state.”

Hunter stressed that he warmly welcomes all the district’s new staff, but that Alfrey and McGown merit special mention, as their positions entail extra responsibilities and have the potential to affect quite a bit more change compared to other positions. “I really like their enthusiasm and experience,” he said. “And I really like what they bring to table. I think their arrival will create excitement in both those departments.”

In the fall, the district will begin work on a new, 20,000-foot vocational facility at GCHS. According to Hunter, 10,000 square feet of the new space will be composed of renovated existing facility and 10,000 square feet of new construction. Hunter projected the new area will open sometime in 2014 or 2015.

“We want to enhance vocational education,” he said. “We want to provide every opportunity for our students to be competitive in the vocational area in the global marketplace.”

Hunter characterized the school’s existing vocational program as “extensive.” With Governor Mike Pence’s emphasis on vocational education statewide, though, he added, the new space is critical in allowing GCS to be a leader in vocational education, as opposed to “playing catch up.”

The superintendent is uncertain exactly what the school’s new and additional vocational offerings will be when the new facility opens, but intends to organize a “local vocational focus group” to help make those decisions. That group, he said, will be composed of local businesses, industry and AG groups, with the goal helping decide what type of vocational skills will best serve local interests.

Another change starting at Greensburg Elementary School (GES) in with the 2013-2014 school year is a slightly shifted focus on art education. Part of that shifted focus will include new emphasis on a skill which is more and more becoming essential in modern education and in the modern work force: keyboarding.

“We’re going to have keyboarding in grades 4 and 5,” Hunter said. “which we haven’t had the opportunity to do before.”

The new, half-hour weekly keyboarding class replaces GES’s old mandatory, half-hour weekly art class for grades 4 and 5. In its place, the school now offers a voluntary “Art Enrichment” course.

Art enrichment, Hunter explained, is an extracurricular activity held for one hour a week for grades 4 and 5. Tuesdays will be for fourth grade, while Thursdays will be for fifth grade. Hunter stressed that the district’s art courses will remain unchanged.

“Eighty percent of our kids participate in extracurricular activities anyway,” the superintendent said. “So it’s not a new concept. Getting kids to stay after school has never been a big concern.”

Art enrichment, Hunter added, will allow kids with a true interest or love for art to pursue that part of their educations in grades 4 and 5. “Kids with a real interest [in art] will take advantage of this,” he said, adding that the school’s art facility is very good and will remain unchanged.

GJHS Art Teacher Amanda Graupner will teach art appreciation. “This will allow kids to do projects they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do in just a half-hour a week,” Hunter said. “This will allow them to expand what they can accomplish.”

Hunter was adamant that the district isn’t trying to diminish either the importance of art or student interest in it. The move comes in the wake of the retirement of the school’s art teacher last year and allows the district to shift resources to focus on keyboarding, a skill becoming more and more critical in the classroom. Although fourth and fifth grade students will only take a half hour of keyboarding weekly, Hunter anticipates students will be “very efficient at keyboarding” by the time they leave GES.

The skill will also help students navigate yearly standardized testing, Hunter added.

“Everything we do now is on keyboard,” he said. “We have to get this into the schedule. We hardly ever use pencil and paper anymore for the standardized testing. We took ISTEP this last year online and that requires computer skills. We don’t want kids to do poorly on these tests because they’re no good in computers.”

Of the change in the art program, the superintendent added, “Sometimes you add; sometimes you have to take away. You have to look at every program and every position and see how you can do more for less. How much art were kids really doing for half hour a week?”

The district, he said, was forced to cut about $400,000 from its budget for the new school year. Administration had to get creative in what to cut and how to make those cuts. The art teacher’s retirement made art seem like an obvious place where money could be saved, he said, but district wanted to keep in place some type of art education for grades 4 and 5.

For Hunter, Art appreciation is a potentially viable solution. The superintendent was adamant the class will be closely monitored and reviewed and tweaked or overhauled where necessary.

“I think the motto for every school district right now, is learn how to do more for less,” Hunter said. “And here’s an example where we could add keyboarding and still find a way to keep art. I think this’ll be a win/win for everybody. You have to watch every dollar and see how you can use each one most effectively.

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011