East Porter County School Corporation
Providing Top-Notch Opportunities to Support Student Success
With the community in mind and educational programs to cater to a broad range of students, East Porter County School Corporation is putting learning first
Porter County, Indiana, is a vibrant and growing region known for its natural beauty, strong educational institutions, diverse economy, and proximity to major urban centers. The East Porter County School Corporation plays a crucial role in fostering the growth and development of students in the county, by providing them with opportunities and tools to grow their potential, while exploring a variety of future career options, in an environment that sets them up for success.
The East Porter County School Corporation is composed of three townships: Washington Township, Morgan Township, and Pleasant Township. Instead of consolidating into a single school, the district opted to retain three distinct K-12 campuses, an approach that allows the approximately 2,421 students to stay within their local communities. Each campus maintains a unique environment, and students have the opportunity to engage in school-specific sports teams, clubs, and activities, enriching their individual experiences, and creating a sense of community.
Despite operating as separate campuses, the East Porter County School Corporation functions as a unified entity. The district’s administrators, teachers, and staff work collaboratively to achieve common goals and advance education within the community.
Describing the balance between working together for a common objective, while still maintaining the unique characteristics of each campus, District Superintendent Dr. Aaron Case offers an analogy, “We are like a gallon of Neapolitan ice cream. Together, we are trying to accomplish the same goal and move forward. However, each of the campuses maintains its individual flavor.”
As a rural district, East Porter schools are a hub for community activities, many of which begin before children even reach school age. Dr. Case elaborates, “We have the town park at our schools because, in Washington Township, and Morgan Township, there’s not a city inside of those townships. We partner with the townships, the trustees, and we have the Little League fields, the soccer fields, all on our school campuses, that we maintain.”
School principals also act as community liaisons, hosting community forums where constituents are encouraged to offer feedback about where the schools are succeeding, and where improvement is needed. This communication is a priority for East Porter, because, as he adds, “A lot of times, schools do a great job of communicating out, but that two-way communication doesn’t always happen.”
Providing students with up-to-date opportunities is key to future success, and East Porter Schools is committed to ensuring students are equipped. Jess Niebel, Principal at Morgan Township Elementary School, shares how the community came together to bring STEM to a school that lacked the resources to fully engage children, and prepare them for middle school and high school.
Dr. Case says, “Our parent organization, of which we have roughly 30 to 40 active members, came together and took on the charge of raising funds to be able to build a STEM lab in our building. That’s a big monetary hit for a school, but when we can go to a community that invests in us and ask for their support, that was a huge benefit for us. We opened the STEM lab this year, and we didn’t have to go into the pocketbook of the school, we could go to those businesses and those community members that are invested in us.”
She notes that the school had to think creatively and utilize community support to achieve its goals, and they are proud of this accomplishment, especially as a small school with limited financial resources. “We have to be thinkers. It takes time to pull something like that off, but at Morgan, our community support, when you have a vision and a goal, is incredible. We do have the luxury of asking for support and getting that in return. So, we’re really proud of that, and of trying to stay up to date with the times.”
Sue Lipinski, Washington Township High School Principal, discusses the implementation of engineering and STEM programs which began with a passionate teacher, and a generous $10,000 donation from a local steel mill.
She recounts, “We set a proposal, we reached out to them, and we were able to start buying some robots.” Although Project Lead the Way provides comprehensive STEM education and curriculum to schools in Indiana, the teacher initially had to come up with his own robotics curriculum, which he willingly agreed to. “The next year we applied for Project Lead the Way grants, and we were given $20,000 at the high school. With that, we really grew a very cool program. He went to training, there was no extra pay. He gave up a week in the summer, stayed on college campuses, we were finding money for him to do that,”
Lipinski conveys. “A couple of years later, we applied at the middle school for another grant, and again, I had teachers giving up their time in the summer. Now at middle school, I have three rotations. I have kids in a medical detective course in sixth grade. We have an app creator class where kids are coding. We have another class where kids are creating their own new inventions through Project Lead the Way, and that is along with our two high school engineering courses.”
The success and credibility of these initiatives led to additional funding and support from the school board. As a result, a new room was built in the high school building specifically for the science and STEM programs, equipped with computers, a designated area for working with robots, and ample storage space. This has not only showcased the school’s commitment to STEM education but also generated increased interest and enthusiasm for STEM within the community. Assistant Superintendent, Alissa Schnick acknowledges that being a small district may have meant limited opportunities for students in the past, but now they are focused on providing competitive advantages that prepare students for future pursuits. She says, “When they look at their future as far as college or career schools, even if they’re looking at going into a certification, it gives us the chance to really help our students have that leg up as they go on to further education or out into the workforce. I believe that our community is definitely in support of that, and we see that it starts at the elementary level. We make it a priority by trying to find the funding and support it in different ways.”
Given the smaller size of the schools, there may be limited student enrollment in certain specialized classes such as physics, agriculture, or psychology. Consolidating these classes across the district allows for better use of resources, and the ability to offer a wider range of subjects. Providing a variety of educational opportunities is another priority for East Porter County School Corporation, and Case maintains that this also requires some out-of-the-box thinking to make it work. “When I came to East Porter, they did not have an agricultural teacher. So, we hired someone, but once again, we had to think differently,” he relays.
“So, instead of having an ag teacher at each campus, we have a single teacher. We’re leveraging the fact that we are a middle-sized district, but then offering that class for the other campuses, where they can either drive to that particular campus if they’re old enough to drive or offer it in a virtual component so that they have access.”
Superintendent Case emphasizes the importance of collaboration and partnerships within Porter County in also providing diverse opportunities for students. The Porter County Career Center, with the participation of all seven school districts, ensures that students from across the county have access to a variety of programs such as agriculture, law enforcement, firefighting, paramedics, construction, and mechanics. As well, the district partners with Northwest Indiana Ready, to direct students to apprenticeships with local industries, including those in the agricultural sector, to provide real-world experiences and career pathways.
Offering her final thoughts, Schnick highlights the focus on curriculum and programming that provide amazing opportunities to the students at East Porter County Schools. “East Porter is focused on kids and is focused on developing curriculum and programs that help them grow and excel,” she asserts.
“Although we have three campuses, during the day we’re working together. We are collaborating to make sure that we provide opportunities for our kids to excel. After school when it comes to sports and extracurriculars, we’re in competition. So, during the day, we’re one, after school, we’re three.” In conclusion, Niebel remarks, “We have really great people leading the charge with our kids and making sure that we can afford them all the opportunities to be successful adults. We are very fortunate here to have all of those things in our favor to prepare the kids for whatever avenue that they might go down as young adults.”
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AT A GLANCE
East Porter County School Corporation
What: A school district serving 2,400 k-12 students split into 3 campuses
Where: Porter County, Indiana