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Governor signs ILEARN hold harmless bill

Administrators and teachers around Indiana are breathing sighs of relief as bills to ease the pain of poor ILEARN scores are making progress through the Indiana General Assembly and becoming law.

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 2, which will hold schools harmless for ILEARN scores for the next two years, on Wednesday, Feb. 12.

Meanwhile, House Bill 1002, which removes the requirement that teacher evaluations must be based, in part, on standardized test scores, was passed in the House and has been introduced in the Senate.

Both Rep. David Wolkins (R-District 18) and Rep. Tony Cook (R-District 32) said lawmakers were moved to act on ILEARN hold harmless by Indiana teachers who came together at the Statehouse during the Red for Ed rally in November.

“Everybody was in agreement. That whole thing [ILEARN] has been a mess.” Wolkins said. “It was especially emphasized when the teachers showed up for Red for Ed … Enough teachers made their point that we had to support it.”

Not only will schools not be penalized for low ILEARN scores this year, but teachers no longer have to worry about low scores impacting their bonus if the evaluation legislation is signed into law. Cook said taking ILEARN out of the equation simplifies the teacher bonus structure and makes it more uniform among different grade levels.

As a former principal and superintendent, Cook said he has been working for several years to convince fellow Republicans to cut the state standardized test out of the evaluation.

“You have to keep chipping away and keep in front of your colleagues,” Cook said. “You have to let them know it is important to make change.”

While the bill says school districts do not have to use state test data for evaluation, they are welcome to do so, Cook explained.

“Schools can still use test data if they want to, for example their local tests like NWEA,” Cook said. “But I think the most important thing is observation.”

Eastbrook Superintendent Brett Garrett, Marion Superintendent Brad Lindsay and Madison-Grant Superintendent Scott Deetz said they were glad to hear the state legislature is taking emphasis away from state test scores.

Garrett said ILEARN scores should be less of a focus for evaluations both of teachers and schools.

“I am adamantly opposed to having ILEARN results included in teacher evaluations,” he said. “Letter grades are [also] not fair. There are so many factors that play into a school’s effectiveness.”

Garrett said he was glad to see ILEARN taken out of the evaluation equation, though Eastbrook was already only basing 10 percent of a teacher’s bonus on ILEARN scores. Instead, Eastbrook bases the 90 percent bulk of the score on day-to-day performance metrics and classroom evaluations.

Lindsay and Marion Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs Bob Schultz said they do not value state testing very highly, with Lindsay going so far to call state testing a waste of money.

“It is a total waste of millions of state dollars,” Lindsay said. “To spend this much money on a test is a waste; we should be putting this money back into the schools.”

A further indication of how Marion values the scores is the low rate which it counts toward teacher bonuses: “Our percentage is 2 percent and even that is too much,” Schultz said. Instead, teachers are evaluated based on “a tool that captures the whole student” that was created by Marion’s teacher association.

Though Madison-Grant also only bases 4 percent of the evaluation score on ILEARN, Deetz said removing it from the equation entirely is a victory for teachers.

“However the symbol of having a state assessment attached to your evaluation is a symbol that is larger than anything else in that evaluation plan,” Deetz said. “So eliminating that gets rid of the stigma and the pressure (for teachers).”

Deetz said state testing should never have been included in teacher evaluations because “these tests were never intended to measure teacher performance, they measure student performance.”

Administrators for Oak Hill United School Corporation and Mississinewa Community Schools did not respond to the Chronicle-Tribune’s request for comment as of deadline Thursday.

Florists working through Valentine's Day rush

Despite the snowy weather, business is blooming for local floral shops on Valentine’s Day.

Julie Vice, owner of Vice’s Marion Floral Co. with her husband Everett, said orders have continually come in for the last few weeks in anticipation of the holiday. She expects the business will fulfill around 200 orders for Valentine’s Day, with people coming in up until the last second.

Because of this anticipated influx of business, Vice said she has been preparing for weeks. She said she hired four or five extra delivery drivers and a couple of extra workers for cutting and arranging flowers, since it takes a team effort to fulfill all of the orders.

As a mascot for the Valentine’s team, Vice’s dog, KC, keeps spirits high during the bustle of the season.

“I really enjoy doing this because all the girls keep me entertained,” Sheri Padfield, a Valentine’s addition, said. “It’s kind of like a girls’ day at the shop.”

While business is busy, Vice said she finds it endearing to have people coming in looking to buy flowers for their loved ones for Valentine’s Day.

“A lot of the guys are cute because they want to make it special, but don’t really know what they’re looking for,” Vice said. “It seems like on Mother’s Day, you just want to get something pretty, but on Valentine’s Day everyone’s looking for something that means more.”

Vice said she and her staff try to listen to the needs and desires of their customers, then direct them to the best options. While they serve a wide variety of options, she said their most popular arrangement is a classic red rose bundle.

Becky Banks, owner of Turning Over a New Leaf Flowers & Gifts in Gas City, echoed a similar story with her Valentine’s Day customers.

She said she often finds customers coming in wanting something special and unique for their significant other. With a staff of certified floral designers, Banks said her team delights in trying to create unique and beautiful pairings.

“It’s so special to see someone’s eyes light up and say, ‘That’s it. It’s so beautiful,’” Banks said.

Banks said she has always loved flowers and gardening, so opening her home floral company into a storefront in 2016 became a dream come true to bring others joy and beauty.

Additionally, Banks said her team loves working to bring people something special from the time the order is placed to delivery.

“Even our delivery drivers always talk about how happy people are when they receive their flowers, and it’s so sweet for them to be a part of that as well,” Banks said.

Banks cautioned consumers planning to buy last-minute to be cautious of the cold weather’s effect on fresh flowers but said she does not expect the weather will affect delivery.

MCT gathers talent from around the region to stage 'Good Night Ladies'

Members of the Marion Civic Theatre (MCT) are doing their part to bring people from outside the community to Marion with their performances of “Good Night Ladies.”

Donna McFadden travels from Muncie to direct the show, bringing two of the actors with her.

“We all just kind of travel around this area doing theater, so we ended up here,” McFadden said. “The vagabond theater life.”

Pam Corbat and Sam Smith travel together from Markle to act in the play.

“This is a great community,” Corbat said. “We’re having a great time.”

Throughout the production process, Corbat said she has learned about how much MCT gives back to Marion.

While fewer and fewer people are going into the field of art and performance, Corbat said community theater is a way to keep people involved and creative.

“(Art) has to stay alive, and this is a great way to do it,” Corbat said.

Both Smith and Corbat said their families and coworkers who have never been to Marion before are coming to the performances.

Since joining MCT, Smith said she had learned a lot about being a part of a civic theater.

“I go to shows all the time, but I never realized how much of the work is actually done by the actors and actresses,” Smith said. “We’ve painted, and I’ve ironed. It’s fun to do. Everybody pitches in, and it’s all for the good of the arts in the community.”

Smith said she intends to come back to MCT to help and volunteer.

McFadden said the actors come from different places, such as Gas City, Marion, Muncie and Markle, as well as various levels of theater experience.

This is Corbat’s first time performing, and Smith’s first time acting since high school.

“We’ve got veterans and brand new baby theater people,” McFadden said. “We’re all working together.”

“Good Night Ladies” is a farce about a plain girl who falls in love with a shy professor, McFadden said.

The men take the professor to a gentlemen’s club, which gets raided, and the men run away to the female-only spa next door and have to dress as women.

“There’s a lot of running around, we say Scooby-Doo doors, where they are trying to hide and run and all of that,” McFadden said. “It’s just a really funny show.”

Parents are encouraged to use their discretion in bringing children to the play.

“I would have brought (my son), but he’s a theater kid. It’s up to the parents,” McFadden said. “It’s not vulgar or anything. I call it tastefully inappropriate.”

Performances of “Good Night Ladies” will be tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online and at the door.

Probe finds 911 dispatchers bungled fatal Indiana pond crash

MISHAWAKA (AP) — A 911 dispatcher speaking to a desperate driver who had veered into a frozen northern Indiana pond should have focused on advising her how to get herself and her three young children to safety instead of spending the beginning of the call trying to determine the pond’s location, an investigation found.

Research shows there is only about one minute for occupants to safely get out of a vehicle once it enters water, yet the dispatcher spent over 90 seconds during Brooke Kleven’s New Year’s Eve call trying to verify the location of the accident, according to a report released Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a second St. Joseph’s County dispatcher speaking to a bystander who witnessed the crash and called 911 erred by classifying it as an “accident” rather than a “vehicle in water,” which delayed the response of a dive team to the location, the South Bend Tribune reported. It took 14 minutes from the time of Kleven’s call for a diver to enter the pond in Mishawaka.

The crash occurred when Kleven missed a curve on an icy road. Two of Kleven’s children, 4-year-old James Kleven and 2-year-old Natalie Kleven, drowned. Brooke Kleven and her 3-month-old daughter, Hendrix Kleven, were critically injured but survived.

The two dispatchers have resigned since the crash but likely would have been disciplined if they hadn’t for failing to follow protocol in an emergency situation, Ray Schultz, the dispatch center’s director, said in the report.

Schultz said it’s unclear why the second dispatcher did not use the dispatch center’s software to correctly code the incident. But he also said it would be “pure speculation” to suggest that the outcome of the crash would have changed had it not been for the dispatchers’ “missteps.”

Sociologist dispels myths, offers strategies to improve rural housing

Leaders from around Indiana gathered at Ivy Tech Marion to hear statistics behind housing issues facing rural communities on Tuesday.

The Community Foundation of Grant County invited sociologist Ben Winchester, senior research fellow with Minnesota Extension Center for Vitality, to share statistics and guide local officials toward solutions.

Winchester’s talk centered around the alleged myth that there is not enough working class housing in rural communities. Winchester said this is a myth because in a lot of cases rural houses are just dilapidated or occupied too long by elderly residents.

During the next 20 years, he said rural communities must be prepared to welcome a new generation of residents, as about three-quarters of owner-occupied housing will become available. Winchester foresees this trend because about 77 percent of homes in rural communities are owned by seniors and baby boomers.

Based on those coming into and leaving rural communities for work each day, Winchester said the greatest opportunity is those “moving over,” since about 11,000 people leave or come into Marion for work. While many may want to “move over” to communities like Marion, the obstacle becomes if there is available housing for seniors and for working families.

While there is no silver bullet, leaders who attended were encouraged to expand the conversation about housing in their community and rebuild the model of housing demand to create the housing stock needed to grow rural communities.

“Opening senior housing is one and the same as opening up other housing,” Winchester said.

Leaders were encouraged to capitalize on programs to make seniors’ homes more valuable before they have to leave, such as a grant or loan program.

Winchester said his data indicates that seniors are living alone longer and are more reluctant to leave their home near the end of their life. So, another narrative to rewrite is how seniors look at their home. Some seniors have the idea that their house will sit vacant when they move out or pass away.

“It was a home to you. It was a home to someone before you. It will be a home to people after you,” Winchester said.

Winchester encouraged families to be proactive and get on the same page about the future of their home to avoid emergency end of life situations and situations that could cause the house to fall into disrepair.

The talk was followed by break-out sessions where attendees talked about what is working now, what could work better and what should or could be developed to attract, retain and plan for new residents.

In one session, participants said what is working well in Grant County right now is the economy and always getting new talent to see the community when they attend the local universities.

Some opportunity areas participants found were providing young professionals with opportunities to get involved outside the office and increasing public transportation to make the community more accessible during more hours of the day.

“Your community has to be someplace people want to live, not just a place where your job is,” said Brad Bishop, a businessman from Warsaw.

“A challenge is lack of diversity age-wise,” said Marion young professional Riley Tangeman. “It can make it challenging to stay here because it makes you question if this is the right place for you or why you are taking the hard route.”

One of the biggest changes that Marion needs may be an attitude adjustment, according to some participants.

“There’s a lot of people in Grant County that believe we are less than OK,” said Pam Leslie of Marion. “When you talk one-on-one to people they say these things. But I wonder how so many amazing people live and work here and feel this way?”