By JENNIFER MEIER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
It’s not a secret anymore.
“One of the former superintendents used to say that York Elementary was the best-kept secret in Elkhart County,” said Middlebury Community Schools Superintendent Jane Allen.
However, when the elementary was recognized as a Four Star School by the Indiana Department of Education in May, York, its staff and students, were moved into the spotlight.
What made the achievement even more impressive is that York is the only elementary in Elkhart County to be given the honor. Northridge High School in Middlebury was also awarded a Four Star rating.
York Elementary is a kindergarten through third-grade school with 250 students.
“I know you’re not supposed to be prideful,” Allen said, “But I can’t help it. Everyone worked so hard to succeed. The best part is that the kids worked so hard because they love coming to school — and they want to come to school because of the atmosphere in the building.”
For Allen, a former principal at York, the success is extra sweet.
“I can say as a former principal and now as a superintendent that this is amazing,” Allen said. “Everyone in all our school buildings works very hard, but it’s just that in some cases it works better in some places.”
York Elementary School Principal Yvonne Buller couldn’t agree more.
“Everyone is just so diligent on wanting to do the right thing for the kids while working to meet all the requirements,” Buller said. “This award just affirmed all the hard work that’s been done.”
Buller found out from Allen about the school’s Four Star rating in May.
“I believe what they tell me,” Buller said. “But I just wanted to see it on paper.”
Following an email Buller received a certificate and letter, signed by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, in the mail several weeks later.
“At the end of that day, I pulled all the staff into the lobby — which means either good or bad news,” Buller said. “I was grinning from ear to ear so they weren’t worried for long. And then I told them.”
Buller said the staff celebrated and worked to keep the announcement in the forefront of their thoughts during last few weeks of school.
The state Department of Education established the 25th percentile cut score, which combines the passing percentages of the ISTEP English/language arts and mathematics scores, as well as the percentages of students who pass both sections. In addition a qualifying school must have a 95 percent student participation rate.
The data collected was based on last year’s performance. At York Elementary, 93.75 percent passed the math portion of the testing and 89.36 percent passed the English/language arts portion. A little more than 87 percent of students passed both sections.
For Buller, the Four Star rating is based on more than just ISTEP scores.
“I see the stars as representing four different things — community, staff, students and parents,” Buller said. “We’ve got a community that is really embracing us right now. We have a lot of volunteers from the business community as well as grandparents and also parents who may no longer have kids at the school.”
Buller also acknowledges that many parents see the need and value of partnering with the school to make it grow and be better. Working that angle pays off, according to Buller.
“The staff of course is so diligent,” Buller said. “They have to be up on the latest strategies and work very hard to get things done.”
Another big component, she said, is that students have to want to learn.
“When all those things are aligned you get success,” Buller said. “And that’s what’s happening at York right now.”
In the York principal’s view, being at the top is a great place to be.
“You never let up because now you will always believe you can achieve this,” Buller said. “Now we are thinking, ‘What can we do beyond that?’ But for now, we know that we are at a really strong place and have a good foundation to keep building on. This is such a great honor.”
Sandy Fireoved has been a teacher at York for almost 39 years. For her the award was exciting, but certainly not surprising.
“I’ve always known that this was a good school,” Fireoved said. “Everybody works hard. It is a great place to teach and a great community to be a part of. So I really feel like we deserved that award. There are no prima donnas here. Everyone learns from everyone else. We all work together.”