Dr. David Hoffert, Warsaw Community Schools superintendent, told the Core Planning Team Thursday morning that it’s been a “wild and crazy” year for the school district.
He laid out the highlights of the past year, from his visit to the White House and Feed My Starving Children to the recently passed building project referendum.
The Core Planning Team includes administrators, teachers, staff, community members and student representatives who contribute to the creation of WCS’s long-term vision and planning. Thursday’s meeting was held in the Russell Center on the campus of Grace College, Winona Lake.
“We’ve got a lot to celebrate from this last year,” Hoffert said. “It has been a wild and crazy year, and sometimes when you don’t sit back and reflect a little bit from where you come from this point last year, you miss out on things.”
Last summer a group from WCS went to the Smithsonian Institute to work on its K-12 STEM Initiative with leaders and experts in STEM education. Warsaw’s table grew a lot of interest from others there, and they were told they needed to showcase what they were doing at the national level.
“One of the ladies that was there was actually in charge of all the Title (I, II, III) funds for the national government,” Hoffert said. She told him she wanted to get back to him so she could invite him to a special event to represent WCS.
Over a month later, she contacted him and had him fill out some paperwork. Another month later, he received another thing that said it was from the White House, but he couldn’t talk about it. A month later, he received an official invitation to showcase what’s going on at WCS in the East Room of the White House.
“What an incredible experience,” Hoffert said. “And how do you take everything that’s going on within Warsaw Community Schools and be able to condense it into roughly five minutes, because that’s what they told us we had, to showcase everything that’s going on within Warsaw Community Schools.”
Hoffert had been selected by the U.S. Department of Education as one of 100 top school leaders from across America to participate in the first National Connected Superintendents Summit at the White House.
He then talked about WCS’s mission statement and how he believed there was no one else out there with a mission statement like theirs.
“It’s given us purpose and focus in what we do,” he said.
When he tries to explain to anyone who’s never been to Indiana what is Warsaw, Hoffert said it is hard to explain. Along with being in Northern Indiana, he said WCS is up to 7,200 students.
“We have a microcosm of a community just going on in our schools every single day. We are now the third largest employer inside the Warsaw community,” he said.
The geographic boundaries are 35 miles by 25 miles, and includes rural, urban and suburban areas. WCS has 36 native languages in the school corporation.
“Thirty-six native languages! If you think back just a couple of years ago, we’ve gone from just a 2 percent EL population to almost a 20 percent EL population, and it’s coming from many different areas, whether that’s immigration coming up toward the Warsaw area or it’s our strong adoption families inside our school corporation area,” Hoffert said.
WCS also has a 50 percent free and/or reduced lunch population. That’s another number that shocks people, he said, because there’s a community out there that has a lot of needs coming into the school corporation.
He also mentioned how the community has the largest U.S. soy diesel plant, is the orthopedic capital of the world and the duck farm capital of the world.
OrthoWorx has been a catalyst for WCS’s growth, Hoffert said, starting with the Cambridge Report it conducted about five years ago. It reported on the good things going on in the school corporation, but also some “truths” that needed addressed, he said.
“The Cambridge Report really set the path for what we’re doing here today with our Core Planning,” Hoffert said.
OrthoWorx has become a partner with WCS, providing funding for things WCS could not do alone like the Warsaw Inquiry Learning Laboratory. WILL is a bus that provides project-based STEM education to all K-6 students.
Hoffert then spoke about the two Math Science Partnerships grants WCS received from the Indiana Department of Education. The first one was in 2013 for $500,000. The second one was this year for $650,000, the largest in the state. The grant money helps math and science teachers learn to do more project-based learning. WCS expanded the summer teacher learning to other school corporations in the county this year.
This summer will be the third year for the eLearning Conference, Hoffert mentioned, and he also briefly discussed how dual credits and Advanced Placement credits offered at the high school are saving parents more than $1 million in potential college costs.
“This is another one of those areas that when you share it with your community, community members can not believe that college classes are taking place within our high school and career center every single day,” Hoffert said.
He then reminded the team that at this time last year, WCS was talking about going to 1:1 where every student would have a computer device like an iPad Mini. This year, the sixth-graders all received the iPads as the “guinea pigs” for the program. Next year, all students in sixth through eighth grade will have them as the program continues to grow.
In the fall, WCS participated in Feed My Starving Children, thanks to an idea by teachers Scott Sterk and David Wayne. A million meals were packed for hungry children in third world countries. WCS will do it again in October.
Hoffert also touched on how guest speakers Eva Kor, a Holocaust speaker, and Kevin Ford, a NASA astronaut, were brought in to talk to students and the community.
He wrapped up his talk up by discussing the building project referendum, which was approved by voters 2,999 to 1,814 on May 5.