Duneland School Corporation
Duneland’s Odyssey towards Educational Excellence
Duneland School Corporation; crafting futures fostering innovation, and championing community
Duneland School Corporation, located in Chesterton, Indiana, is a pillar of educational excellence in the local community, consistently striving to inspire, engage, and empower its students. With a clear mission to provide a safe and engaging environment, the corporation ensures that every student is given the opportunity to explore their talents, build on their natural curiosity, and meet high expectations.
This dedication to holistic development is evident in the school district’s recent accolades. The Indiana Department of Education has recognized all Duneland Schools with the Family Friendly School Designation, a commendation for schools that excel in involving families and communities in their children’s education. This recognition underscores the corporation’s commitment to addressing not just the academic needs of its students, but also their physical, emotional, and social well-being.
Moreover, the corporation’s dedication extends beyond just the academic realm. All ten schools within the Duneland district have been designated as Purple Star schools by the Indiana Department of Education. This prestigious designation is awarded to schools that show a profound commitment to service members, veterans, and families connected to the nation’s military.
Duneland’s Educational Landscape
With the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan to the north and the iconic sand dunes as its backdrop, this K-12 district serves as the educational hub for approximately 5,800 students spread across a vast 94 square miles. The district, which encompasses five different townships and three towns, is aptly named after its proximity to the renowned dunes of Lake Michigan.
Chip Pettit, the Superintendent of Schools, proudly shares, “We are a one high school district where kids grow-up wanting to be Trojans. Kids graduating from Chesterton High School come from the towns of Chesterton, Porter, and Burns Harbor and surrounding townships. Our teaching staff is definitely a source of pride and consistently recognized as amongst the best in the State of Indiana.”
Throughout the years, the corporation has witnessed multiple educators receiving accolades for their exceptional contributions. Pettit proudly states that in the last three years, several teachers from their institution have been acknowledged by the Indiana Department of Education as Teacher of the Year finalists. He notes that in 2021, Bob DeRuntz, a social studies teacher from Chesterton High School, ranked among the top ten finalists in the Statewide Teacher of the Year recognition program. Furthermore, in 2022, Becky Holman secured a position as a top 25 finalist in that very program.
Pettit also highlights the schools recent recognition as further proof of its leading and innovative educational approach with Cognia® naming Duneland School Corporation (DSC) a 2023 Cognia® School system of Distinction for excellence in education.
He illustrates that this year Cognia, the global nonprofit school improvement organization, recognized 33 schools and school systems in the United States and in four other countries across the globe as 2023 Cognia Schools or Systems of Distinction.
“I am pleased to congratulate Duneland School Corporation for their designation as a 2023 Cognia System of Distinction, a program which recognizes public and non-public institutions that exemplify excellence in education and service to learners” said Dr. Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of Cognia.
Cognia selected DSC as one of the 25 schools and eight systems out of more than 1,100 eligible institutions that hosted a Cognia Accreditation Engagement Review during the 2022-2023 school year.
“We have incredible principals, teachers and staff and are fortunate to receive tremendous community support for our schools,” said Dr. Chip Pettit, Superintendent of Duneland Schools.”
DSC first earned Cognia Accreditation in 2008 and reaccreditation in 2018. During the 2022-2023 school year, DSC participated in Cognia’s rigorous Accreditation Engagement Review process, which is grounded in research-based performance standards. The process includes a third-party review of evidence by education experts, interviews, and classroom observations.
The review evaluates institutions and seeks evidence of growth in learning, a healthy culture for learning, engaging and high-quality instructional environments, and effective leadership for learning-all characteristics Cognia expects to see in quality schools that also demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement.
Embracing Diversity and Nurturing Excellence
Duneland School Corporation’s dedication to inclusivity and diversity is evident in its recent initiatives. When asked about the school system’s approach to these crucial topics, Donna Biggs, the Director of Teaching and Learning, highlights a significant shift.
“This year, we incorporated our special education teachers into the Duneland system, previously part of a co-op. This transition has enabled us to be more inclusive in our curriculum planning and alignment for both special education and general education students,” she explains. The integration has been met with enthusiasm from the staff, who see it as an opportunity to further strengthen the professional learning community.
The history of the corporation is deeply rooted in the community. Pettit shares, “There was a consolidation in the 60s where several township districts merged to form the Duneland School Corporation.” Today, the corporation boasts approximately 350 teachers and a total of up to 650 employees. While the numbers have remained stable over the years, the recent inclusion of special education staff has seen a slight increase in the workforce.
Federal programs have played a role in shaping the educational landscape at Duneland. Biggs mentions the continuation of the IREAD (Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination) reading assessment, introduced as part of the No Child Left Behind initiative. “We utilize it not just in third grade, as mandated by the state, but also in second grade as a screener. This helps us provide the necessary support and interventions to ensure students meet the reading expectations by third grade,” she elaborates.
Pettit proudly shares the achievements of their students, “Our graduating class of 2023 boasts a 98% graduation rate. Approximately 60 to 65% of our students pursue post-secondary education, with a third completing a year of college during their high school tenure. Almost two-thirds earn some college credit before graduation.”
The dual enrollment program, which allows students to earn college credits while still in high school, has been particularly successful. Biggs elaborates on its success, “We’ve partnered with universities throughout Indiana, including Purdue, Indiana University, and Ivy Tech. These partnerships support our teachers and curriculum, ensuring that our courses align with college-level expectations.”
Charting the Future: Duneland’s Vision for Public Education
Public education is a dynamic landscape, constantly evolving to meet the needs of students and the expectations of communities. Pettit acknowledges the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
“We’re fortunate to be in a community that ardently supports their public schools. Our families and community have shown tremendous support, both through the promotion of our extracurricular programs and financial backing with operating referendums in 2012 and 2019. This support enables us to recruit and retain top-tier educators and maintain the high-quality programming our community values,” he shares.
Pettit also emphasizes the importance of staying competitive, “We recognize that we’re in competition for students. We strive to provide the programs and services that attract students and, equally importantly, the best teachers and staff.”
Co- and extracurricular activities play a significant role in the Duneland experience. “The wide ranging extracurricular opportunities available for students have been a long standing cornerstone of the district. At Chesterton High School, we have nationally ranked teams in speech and debate and swimming. Marching band, show choir, gymnastics, boys’ soccer, wrestling, dance, cross country, and boys’ basketball have all won state championships or been state-runner up in recent years,” Pettit proudly states.
Beyond sports, the district provides an array of extracurricular activities addressing varied interests. Pettit mentions that they maintain strong programs in areas like speech and debate, show choir, and robotics. He notes that many of these teams participate in competitions at both state and national levels.
Biggs highlights another unique aspect of the Duneland experience, “A significant point of pride for us is our focus on supporting the needs of all students. We’ve established an internship program at our high school, where over 50% of our seniors participate in community-based internships. This allows them to explore potential careers before making decisions about college, trades, or the military.” He emphasizes the comprehensive approach Duneland takes, “Our commitment starts at the kindergarten level, focusing on career exploration, and culminates in high school, where students can put their knowledge into action.”
Building Tomorrow: Duneland’s Vision and Commitment
In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the Duneland School Corporation is a symbol of unwavering commitment to growth, community engagement, and excellence. Biggs encapsulates this sentiment, stating, “We are fortunate to be in a community where we are supported by our community members and have dedicated teachers and students who are always looking to grow and learn.”
The corporation’s dedication to progress is evident in its infrastructure developments. Robert McDermott shares insights into the ongoing projects, “We’re currently undergoing a significant capital improvement project. This includes the construction of a new elementary school, renovations of our other four elementary schools, and the expansion of both our intermediate schools, transforming them into five through eight campuses. These renovations encompass both instructional spaces and mechanical upgrades.”
Marketing and community engagement remain at the forefront of Duneland’s strategies. Pettit elaborates on the school’s approach, “We use a myriad of strategies, primarily targeting our community and those within our district boundaries. Our communication channels include the local newspaper, our district website, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and even billboards in town. We also send out district-wide digital newsletters and maintain regular communication with families through weekly phone calls and newsletters from principals.”
In a world where choices abound, the school corporation remains steadfast in its mission. Pettit concludes, “The Duneland School Corporation is committed to providing a focused and challenging curriculum in a blended learning environment for all students. We prioritize differentiated instruction to meet individual student needs, offer relevant real-world instruction, and empower students through critical thinking and problem-solving. Our use of technology is pivotal, allowing students to create, connect, and communicate.”
It’s evident that the Duneland School Corporation’s dedication to excellence, community engagement, and forward-thinking initiatives will continue to shape the future of education in their community and beyond.
AT A GLANCE
Duneland School Corporation
What: A K-12 educational institution dedicated to providing a focused and challenging curriculum in a blended learning environment.
Where: Northwest corner of Indiana, near the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
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