Superintendent Scott Litwiller gave the first-ever "state of the schools" address for South Adams to a room full of guests at a Berne Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Swiss Village on Tuesday.
Litwiller explained that the elementary, middle and high schools achieved "exemplary progress" status, or an 'A' rating, from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) for the 2010-11 school year.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment — an accomplishment of which I am very proud," Litwiller said. One of the reasons South Adams received an 'A' from the IDOE is because 84 percent of the schools' test scores were passing, which was an improvement of three percent over the previous year.
Also factored into the rating is the schools' graduation rate. According to Litwiller, "Our school's graduation rate is increasing." He explained that the graduation rate was 83 percent in 2009. The number of students who graduated from high school increased to 86 percent in 2010, and increased again in 2011 to 91.
However, said Litwiller, "South Adams is more than a grade. There is more to South Adams than an 'A' from the IDOE."
"When I look at the financial picture of South Adams Schools, I say that I am 'cautiously optimistic.'" Litwiller explained, "I am optimistic because the sound financial decisions made by the school board two, three and even four years ago, have permitted South Adams to maintain a solid financial foundation." But, he added, "I am cautious because it seems like school funding is constantly changing. It's hard to keep up with all of the changes and I wonder what other changes are coming."
Litwiller also said he is cautious because of federal grants that have been awarded to the schools. "These grants have enabled us to rebuild our cash balance to a healthier level and give us a little cushion." But, "We cannot rely on these federal grants forever." He noted that a key education job fund will expire in September.
Litwiller continued, "If the state of South Adams is more than a grade, then it is definitely more than dollars and cents. There is more to our school."
The superintendent pointed out, "We have one of the finest school facilities in the area." He said that the recently-built K-8 building is functional and attractive. He added that the nearly 40-year-old high school is exceptionally maintained. "Our custodial and maintenance staff have proven that they know how to take care of a building."
"To fully understand the state of South Adams Schools, one needs to fully appreciate what is happening within the walls of the school right now," said Litwiller. "The future is in our school. Tomorrow is being shaped today. Education is a profession, and South Adams Schools is in the business of developing people. We are developing tomorrow's leaders today."
Litwiller referred to the schools' mission statement of, "Inspiring students to reach for the stars." He explained that "inspire" means to stimulate, motivate, encourage, energize and excite. "Inspiration is like a springboard, and a springboard is an object from which someone can jump in order to gain added force or energy. This school is a springboard for students to accomplish amazing things — things beyond what they can imagine."
However, Litwiller asked, "How do we know which direction to position the springboard? This is where our core values are helpful."
The core values of South Adams Schools focus on: students, personnel, curriculum, the learning environment and sustainability.
"Students are our top priority, and the development of the whole child is a must if we are to inspire students," said Litwiller. He added that decisions at the schools are made with the best interest of the student in mind.
Litwiller said that the schools' key resource is its staff. He describes the staff as "committed, caring adults who are student-centered to have the biggest impact on student learning." He added that the staff "strives to use effective methods, reflect personal integrity, work as a team and model the importance of lifelong learning."
Litwiller also mentioned the one-to-one laptop computer program that will be implemented at the high school beginning next school year. He said, "This is an exciting time, but we cannot think of technology as the 'savior' of education." The superintendent added that, no matter what the subject content, students must have literacy and math skills. "South Adams also teaches the timeless principles of respect and responsibility."
Additionally, Litwiller noted the importance of the learning environment, saying that it needs to be "physically clean and comfortable, and emotionally and physically safe so it's conducive to learning." He also said it is important to integrate technology and working cooperatively with peers. "The learning environment is not just the physical building, but the culture or atmosphere of the school."
Sustainability, said Litwiller, is effectively managing resources. "We believe in responsible stewardship, whether it is personnel, time, materials or finances. We need to make wise decisions today so that we can keep the schools' doors open tomorrow."