SR middle school gets state attention

Wanda English Burnett

An honor such as being ranked second in the state for growth on ISTEP+ scores isn’t one that comes often, or easy for a school.

Dr. John Mehrle, superintendent for South Ripley Schools is proud of the accomplishments of the middle school staff and students as they were recently honored for their efforts to promote academics.

A letter from Tosha Salyers, director of educator outreach for the Indiana Department of Education, outlined the accomplishment that brought about excitement within the ranks at South Ripley.

The letter noted, “your school was one of the top five middle schools in the state for growth on the ISTEP+ exam from 2009-2010.” It went on to congratulate the school on the “amazing achievement”.

Salyers noted that a vital part of achieving this kind of prestigious status is having access to strategies that work in the classroom. She then asked if the staff would be willing to partner with the Indiana Department of Education.

The staff has been asked to participate in the Learning Connection - a place where educators can collaborate, network, share and access Indiana Growth Model data. Salyer noted that because of the success on the ISTEP+ exam, the state will be sending a representative to host a Learning Connection workshop at the school.

While the first hour of the workshop will be teaching the staff about the features of the program, the second part of the session will be gleaning information from South Ripley teachers. They will be using the Learning Connection program and loading lesson plans from South Ripley to share with schools around the state.

New South Ripley Middle School Principal Rodney Hite noted, “They (state representatives) are coming to our school in October to conduct a special workshop with us and learn what we are doing to be so successful.”

Last year was the first time the seventh and eighth grades at South Ripley were separate from the rest of the high school. Dr. Mehrle was the administrator over the middle school and is particularly excited about this new turn of events. He said he appreciates the current board members support of him launching the new junior high.

He said the board has supported him also in the past three years in his role as the assistant superintendent in taking risks and exploring progressive ideas in regard to developing new curriculum and more. They have been supportive of exploring new teaching strategies and moving the school corporation forward through creation and implementation of a PL 221 school improvement process, according to Mehrle.

He noted that the situation is much better with the seventh and eighth grades having their separate identity. Dr. Mehrle told The Versailles Republican last year was a time of transition where the environment was very disciplined. He said they stressed academics, implemented a dress code, among other things, and believed the process would work. The recent letter from the state confirmed his beliefs that the concept is working. “We held students accountable and created high expectations for academic performance,” he noted.

When asked what some of the key components were to the success of the students and staff, Dr. Mehrle said the teachers work as a team - the seventh grade teachers all coming together as well as eighth grade teachers, which creates more of a nurturing approach for the students. He said the inclusion of special needs students in the classrooms also helps the general education students as well, due to more differential instruction.

Another key to success according to Mehrle is the disciplined environment, putting academics first. He had high regard for Principals Mark Collier and Amy Linkel and the sixth grade teachers at the elementary school for giving the students a “great foundation” to build on. Several meetings were held between the junior high and elementary school teachers to talk about the students, academic needs and coordination of the transition.

Dr. Mehrle was quick to say he wasn’t alone in the process of bringing the students to the level they are now. He gave accolades to Joyce Druba, the junior high guidance counselor, who he worked closely with last year. “Mrs. Druba worked on curriculum and also supervised our homework recovery lunch period,” he told The Versailles Republican.

When students didn’t turn their homework in they were held accountable during the lunch period, according to Dr. Mehrle. “By offering such programs we’re trying to create the expectation that students do not have an option to not turn in their work and/or fail,” he stated.

The superintendent in his first year in the position at South Ripley, is proud of the teachers for their willingness to try new concepts. He is proud of the students, who are willing to learn in a different environment, and thanks the parents for their support. He noted it takes a lot of people working together to have a successful school and feels there is great potential at South Ripley.