According to the Carmel Clay Schools website, Superintendent Jeff Swensson, oversees over 15,000 students. The website also states that CCS has “a history of setting the highest achievement goals for students and maintaining strong links to our families and the community.” Swensson has proposed that the State Board of Education designate CCS as a “High Performing School District.” According to Swensson, as a High Performing School District, CCS would be given automatic waivers for several sections of Indiana Code, including the minimum number of school days students must attend.
Indiana state senator Mike Delph, a 1988 Carmel graduate, represents the 29th District in the State Senate, which includes the west side of Carmel. Delph recently met with a group that included several members of the Carmel Clay School Board and eventually adopted the idea of High Performing Schools, adding it to his Senate Bill 236, according to the IN.gov website.
“That proposal that was brought to me by the Carmel School Board (worked) very nicely with what I was already working on,” Delph said. “We’ve been more focused on trying to fix underperforming schools rather than dealing with the higher-performing schools.”
Despite facing conflict concerning parts of his bill, Delph said he will remain strong.
“Any time the Indiana General Assembly gets involved with education you’re going to have some pushback with this idea that we need local control and that’s what the local school system is for,” he said. “Really anything that deals with education, (the Indiana General Assembly) have a role to play and we choose to exercise that role.”
Delph said he hopes for his bill to move forward through the Indiana State Legislature quickly. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to amend Senate Bill 236 to the liking of the Committee members and that it will pass out of the Senate Education Committee to be considered over the next couple weeks by the full Senate.”
According to Delph, he would like to see Indiana more strongly encourage education beyond the classroom.
“I don’t believe a student should start learning when they walk into a classroom or stop learning when they leave a classroom,” he said. “One of the things that I try to use this process to talk about is the desire that I have to have the state of Indiana promote a culture of lifelong learning.”
Swensson said, “We’re delighted and honored that the Senator would express interest in the High Performing School concept.” Still, he said he plans to continue to push the proposal he has made to the State Board of Education in case Senate Bill 236 is not passed.
“Any bill that goes through the process is not a guarantee,” Swensson said.
Swensson said Tony Bennett, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, was supposed to bring up the issue of CCS as a High Performing School District at the October meeting of the Indiana Board of Education. However, nothing about it was brought up at the meeting.
Swensson said he was “very disappointed” that this issue was passed up at the meeting.
“One of the things that I think our school system is very good at is considering ideas,” he said. “We would very much like the privilege to go to the higher level that we think the designation of a High Performing School would permit us (to).”
If Bennett and the Indiana Department of Education do not agree, however, Swensson said he has a different plan.
“I believe our next Plan B step is to go to the State Board of Education and actually appear in front of them and actually be turned down,” Swensson said. “We’ve learned through various sources that the State Board, for reasons I can’t explain, doesn’t believe they have the authority to give us permission (to make CCS a High Performing School District). We disagree with that because we think the law permits them to, but they don’t think it does, so we’re stuck.”
Swensson said he plans on the state legislature granting the State Board the authority to make CCS a High Performing School District. Then, he said, the State Board would grant CCS permission to become a High Performing School District.
He is not the only person who sees the advantage in some of the modifications that being a High Performing School District will result in. Senior Lyndon Ji already has a rather unusual schedule: on Gold Days, he travels to IUPUI to conduct computer science research under a mentor in lieu of attending school. He said he believes that many other students could benefit from education outside the norm.
“(Research) is an extension of what I’ve learned at school to a higher level. Since they didn’t offer Comp. Sci. AB anymore, I took Comp. Sci. A,” Ji said. “What I do at IUPUI is more advanced programming while also learning a bit about
theoretical programming. It depends on what track (students) want to pursue, but science or math people should at least have some prior experience doing research for college.”
Although Ji does not take as many classes as most students, he said he receives the same amount of education if not more. According to Ji, college based activities like research can help prepare students not only for the difficulty of college, but also for the technical aspects, such as writing research papers. Swensson said he sees many advantages for students from this designation as well.
“Now, some students already do that because they already take 400,000 AP courses and I would say, ‘That’s awesome,’ but I would also say, ‘Let’s provide more avenues for them,’” Swensson said.
The whole concept of new avenues for students may be one of the driving forces behind the proposal. According to the CCS website, learning partnerships with colleges, or “professorships,” would allow CHS seniors to study with Carmel and with a university at the same time, allowing them to earn college credits during their senior year.
If CCS was recognized as a High Performing School District, students would have time during school for their “professorships,” along with other projects proposed by CCS, which include career and community service internships and
“Greyhound Senior Semester” scholarships, where CHS seniors would participate in college seminars, labs and applied inquiries according to the CCS website.
Karen Taff, a U.S. history teacher at Carmel since 1984, has been through many curriculum changes and said that she thinks applying to be a High Performing School District is a progressive way of thinking.
She said, “The standards-based movement (the education reform movement taking place in the United States over the past 20 years, according to the National Academy of Education) has been a positive one for all schools, and Carmel has traditionally tried to be a leader, expanding programs in all areas of the building.
“One of the things that is significant is that because of the depth and the breadth of the courses that are offered at Carmel, some of the new requirements handed down by the state, while positive, can be more restrictive for schools that have already proven themselves to be High Performing schools.”
Swensson said. “The adventure (of life after high school), the great things professionally and career-wise and in life that Carmel students will do, how great they are at being cool, interesting and positive, is going to depend in larger measure than ever before on what happens when you get your start in K-12, so that’s why to be a High Performing School District, to me, maximizes for every kid what’s best.”