Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools – St. Leon, Indiana

March 26, 2024

Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools

A Visionary Approach to Education


Accelerating education for its students through innovative teaching, state-of-the-art facilities, and a commitment to community and security.

Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools, an educational district in St. Leon, Indiana, is committed to fostering excellence and innovation in education. The district’s mission revolves around five core values: stewardship, data-driven decision-making, collaboration, shared leadership, and commitment. This approach is geared towards comprehensively preparing students for their futures.

The district includes several schools: East Central High School, East Central Middle School, Bright Elementary, North Dearborn Elementary, and Sunman Elementary. Each school is led by dedicated principals who strive to uphold high academic standards and maintain a safe learning environment. The Sunman-Dearborn administrative office is located on the East Central High School campus at 1 Trojan Place, Suite B, St. Leon.

Dr. Jackson recently shed light on the district’s core values and its deep-seated commitment to the community. As he states, the core of the district’s philosophy are values that resonate with accountability and a relentless pursuit of excellence. “As a district, we have a strategic plan that lists our core values. This means being accountable to provide our best, starting each week with our best foot forward. We extend this expectation to our staff, students, and community,” he explains.

He further highlights the district’s unique position in the community, underscoring its role as a unifying force among the surrounding small towns. “The school corporation is the center of all these communities, Sunman, St. Leon, Dover, Guilford, Bright. and others. We have approximately 3800 students across the district, encompassing all levels from kindergarten to 12th grade.” This number represents not just the scale of their operation but their broad impact on the region.

Embracing Modern Teaching and Preparing for Future Careers

In an era where educational paradigms are shifting rapidly, Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools is not just keeping pace but setting benchmarks in pedagogical approaches and preparing students for unforeseen future careers. This shift is critical today, where job landscapes are evolving faster than ever, and new professions are emerging, challenging the conventional educational frameworks.

Dr. Jackson highlights the district’s focus on enhancing core instruction and implementing a robust teaching approach. “We’ve honed our teacher evaluation rubric to five non-negotiables, ensuring that every classroom exhibits a culture of respect, collaboration, and effective teaching methods,” he states. This rigorous approach to teaching is coupled with targeted professional development. “Each month, teachers engage in professional development tailored to our teaching model, led by instructional leadership at each school. We’re also transitioning to teacher-led professional development, where teachers share best practices with their peers.”

The district’s proactive stance extends to adapting to the new economy and preparing students for future careers. “We’ve seen a shift towards preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, particularly from elementary to middle school. Our focus is on developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and soft skills like collaboration and communication,” explains Dr. Jackson. The district has integrated innovative programs like engineering and robotics clubs at middle and high school levels and a comprehensive Career Technical Education (CTE) curriculum to facilitate this.


Revitalizing Education Through Infrastructure and Opportunities

Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools focuses on academic excellence and modernizing infrastructure and educational opportunities to meet the ever-evolving demands of the labor market and the learning environment. This comprehensive approach sets a new standard for how educational institutions can enhance learning experiences through strategic investments and partnerships.

Dr. Jackson elaborates on the district’s efforts to increase co-op opportunities, particularly in sectors facing labor shortages. “We are constantly seeking new partners to expand co-op opportunities, especially in the trades,” he shares. Although geographical challenges exist due to the district’s rural location, there is a steady increase in students taking advantage of these opportunities.

The conversation then shifts to the district’s substantial investment in its facilities. Dr. Jackson proudly speaks about the recent enhancements. “Our board is deeply committed to improving our facilities. A notable example is our state-of-the-art culinary lab, which has transformed from a home economics-style setting to a professional-grade kitchen,” he explains. The $54 million investment project includes a new natatorium and upgrades to athletic facilities, traffic flow, and mechanical systems.  Lancer Associates Architecture has partnered with Sunman-Dearborn with the majority of the project, and is continuing their partnership as the school moves into the second phase, which is an additional $43 million investment by the board.

Dr. Jackson also mentions the architectural accolades the natatorium has received. “Designed by Mark Beebe with Ratio design, the natatorium seamlessly integrates with our campus and has won an award for interior design. It’s a point of pride and a symbol of our commitment to providing exceptional facilities,” he says.

Celebrating Arts and Athletic Triumphs

At Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools, the spotlight shines brightly on flourishing arts and athletics programs, showcasing an environment where talents are nurtured, and achievements are celebrated. This holistic approach to education ensures that students excel academically and in extracurricular domains, fostering well-rounded development.

Dr. Jackson speaks with pride about their performing and visual arts programs. “Our Performing Arts Center is a hub of creativity, hosting middle school and high school drama productions each fall and spring, which are exceedingly popular and well-attended,” he shares. These productions offer students a taste of professional-level theater experience. “We’ve also seen a rise in community engagement through our Trojan Media Productions, a student-run initiative that emerged during Covid. This program allows students to handle production, camera work, and even on-air roles.”

In visual arts, Dr. Jackson emphasizes the wealth of opportunities for student involvement. “Our art program is robust, giving students inclined towards visual arts ample avenues to explore and express their creativity,” he adds. This comprehensive arts education is a testament to the district’s commitment to nurturing diverse talents.

Shifting the focus to sports, Dr. Jackson highlights their impressive achievements. “We’ve recently celebrated our second consecutive state championship in football. Our extensive athletic program has seen remarkable success across various sports,” he says. The district’s prowess in athletics extends beyond football, with notable accomplishments in girls’ basketball, swimming, soccer, and cross-country.

Individual accolades further enhance the district’s reputation in sports. “Josh Ringer, one of our students, was honored as Mr. Football in Indiana, a significant achievement for him and our school,” Dr. Jackson remarks. This recognition underscores individual talent and contributes to a vibrant school spirit and community pride.


Enhancing Security Measures in Sunman-Dearborn Schools

In the school district, security remains a paramount concern. Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools has significantly emphasized bolstering security measures, ensuring a safe and secure environment for students, staff, and the community. This commitment to safety is reflected in a comprehensive approach to enhancing campus security infrastructure and protocols.

Dr. Jackson details the various initiatives undertaken to strengthen security. “A key aspect of our building project was standardizing secure entrances across all five buildings,” he explains. “Now, every entrance requires a two-stage buzzing system, ensuring monitored and controlled access to the schools.” This improvement is part of a broader strategy to create a consistent security protocol district-wide.

The school’s security infrastructure has seen significant enhancements beyond controlled entry points. “We’ve added additional security cameras and improved lighting, particularly in parking areas,” Dr. Jackson says. These measures are part of the ongoing second phase of their security upgrade.

Dr. Jackson highlights the human element in this security strategy. “We have three full-time school resource officers (SROs) across our schools. One each at the high school and middle school, and an extra-duty officer rotating among the elementary schools,” he shares. This system ensures a consistent security presence and fosters familiarity between the schools and local law enforcement. “The rotation of sheriff deputies through our schools means that many officers are well-acquainted with our campuses, enhancing their readiness to respond effectively if needed.”

Into 2024: Goals and Priorities

As the Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools district engages in a new calendar year, it sets ambitious goals and priorities to continue the trajectory of excellence. This approach underlines the district’s commitment to maintaining high standards and innovating and adapting to an ever-changing educational landscape.

Dr. Jackson outlines critical objectives for the upcoming year, with a strong emphasis on instructional quality. “Our primary focus is improving our teacher evaluation scores for core instruction. We believe that stellar instruction is at the heart of our success,” he says. This goal addresses the challenge posed by the ever-changing metrics of state assessments. “Instead of targeting fluctuating state assessment scores, we’re zeroing in on the quality of instruction, confident that this will naturally lead to improved student performance and state assessment outcomes,” he elaborates.

Another major initiative revolves around community engagement and leadership. “We aim for at least 75% of our students to participate in community service or leadership activities,” Dr. Jackson shares. This goal spans simple activities like can drives to more complex projects in higher grades, embedding a sense of service and leadership in the student body.

Dr. Jackson also touches on the second phase of their building project, which is set to commence in the new calendar year. “While a significant portion of this phase involves mechanical upgrades, we are also expanding our AG program and enhancing athletic facilities,” he notes, indicating a balance between functional and programmatic improvements.

Addressing the teacher shortage, a prevalent issue in education, Dr. Jackson pointed to a strategic move in 2017. “Our board set an objective to have the highest-paid teaching staff in southeastern Indiana, which we achieved in 2020. We currently start our teachers at $48,000 a year, significantly higher than many neighboring districts,” he says. This strategy has effectively mitigated the impact of the teacher shortage, ensuring that the district starts each school year fully staffed, even in hard-to-fill positions.

Through these targeted goals and strategies, Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools is preparing for the immediate future and laying the groundwork for sustained excellence and innovation in education. Its focus on instructional quality, community service, infrastructure improvement, and competitive compensation for educators positions it as a leading district poised for continued success and growth in 2024 and beyond.


Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools

What: A dynamic educational district focused on innovation and excellence

Where: St. Leon, Indiana



Raymond James & Associates, Inc. –

Built on the guiding principles of deep relationships, innovative ideas and superior execution, Raymond James consistently ranks among the top five senior managing underwriters of U.S. municipal bonds. Our veteran bankers and aggressive underwriters work with municipal and not-for-profit issuers nationwide to find customized, comprehensive solutions for their next project.

Lancer Associates –

RATIO Architects, LLC –

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