For June’s Innovators of the Month, The Society of Innovators selected Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins of the Michigan City Area Schools for pursuing a “high quality entrepreneurial approach” aimed at core instruction, choice, and career readiness. She was inducted as a Society Member in the “2013 – 2014 Class of Innovators.”
Experiencing a fivefold increase in high school scores since 2010 in algebra and other areas, the district will launch its latest examples of transformation this fall. “Early College” involves both the Michigan City Pejic Campus of Ivy Tech Northwest and Purdue University North Central. This program will allow students to graduate with a high school diploma and a college associate’s degree using dual credit. “Honors College” is aimed at students who want to take courses that prepare them to attend elite colleges. Both four-year programs join an earlier initiative called the “Freshman Academy” to help struggling students succeed.
Other groundbreaking initiatives include Indiana’s first STEM magnet elementary school at Lake Hills, and the state’s first Energy Academy at the A. K. Smith Career Center sponsored by NIPSCO. Also launched were themes for coursework at middle schools. Krueger Middle School adopted an environmental emphasis, receiving an Indiana Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2013. Barker Middle School emphasizes engineering and technology.
These and other initiatives grew out of a 90-day listening tour Dr. Eason-Watkins launched in 2010 after serving as Chief Education Officer in Chicago. Her journey has not been easy because she has faced challenges of budget shortfalls, not unlike the problems of other urban districts. Commenting on the loss of last year’s referendum, Dr. Eason-Watkins said: “It would be wonderful to have an infusion of funds, but we are not letting anything stop us from building alliances and finding resources to make schools ‘world-class.’”
She also stressed professional development and building relationships. At her first in-service training program for staff, she shared the results of her 90-day listening tour. The theme was “We Are Family!” Then to music, and launching a new era in Michigan City schools, she led the audience in singing the 1979 pop hit!