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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Class Warfare

When Vince Bertram was named the superintendent of the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation in 2007, he hit the speaking circuit and met civic groups, community organizations, and political leaders. Bertram wanted change for Indiana’s third largest school system: higher graduation rates, improved test scores, and children ready for college. His first major initiative needed $171 million, and those public visits aided support for his push to build new schools and revamp facilities. After Vanderburgh County voters approved the plan, the EVSC broke ground on the Northeast Side near I-64 for a new high and junior high school. (The junior high is scheduled to open in fall 2011 and the high school in early 2012.)

Beyond the bricks, Bertram has backed new early childhood education programs and updated the technology used by students in the classroom. Those changes have seen calculable results: The graduation rate rose six percent in 2010 from 2009 to 87 percent, and standardized test scores were high enough to receive the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) designation, a federal requirement, for the first time since 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act was enacted.

City View: When you speak in public, you address the state of our public education system with such honesty. Is that approach beneficial?
Vince Bertram: I think we have to confront reality. We have to look at data and make informed decisions about how we are going to improve the educational system. So it’s critical for us to have open dialogue and frank discussions; in my opinion, it’s the only way we are going to improve.

CV: When the new schools open, what are your expectations?
VB: It is important to have quality facilities for our students and to have schools in areas where our students reside. We believe we are going to see a lot of growth in the northeast corner of Vanderburgh County. At the same time, we have seen significant enrollment growth in a number of our schools across the district over the last three years. We’re up over 500 students in the EVSC, which is certainly against the trend in urban school districts. In fact, we are the only urban school district in the state of Indiana that is actually growing. We hope that continues, but most importantly, we are interested in improving outcomes for our children: improving graduation rates, making sure that our children graduate from our schools with the skills and knowledge to compete in a global marketplace, and to compete for positions in higher education at their school of choice. All those things are very important to us, but if we look at programming opportunities, all those things are designed to meet the needs of students, the individual working needs of children. 

CV: One way you expect to increase graduation rates is to improve early childhood education. How will we see this affect the long-term outcome?
VB: We have a clear focus on identifying issues early and providing effective interventions. We can’t wait until students are high school seniors to determine that there’s a problem. We have educators as early as elementary school telling us that a child’s likely to drop out of high school. We’re getting to those issues earlier, more effectively.

CV: In our feature, “Where I’m From,” Marty Harrell, a 1960 Reitz High School graduate, credits much of his musical success — such as playing with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra — to his EVSC education and programs. How important is art and music education for today’s students?
VB: Essential. We are working to expand opportunities in the arts and to expose our students to a variety of experiences. We believe that there are a number of those types of experiences that are important. In fact, we’re getting ready for a major initiative with a company (Rosetta Stone) to provide world language opportunities to all of our students and expanding athletic participation and opportunities. All those things are very important to providing a quality educational experience.

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