Bartholomew County’s only four-star school for 2017 is crediting its students’ faith in God and a strong work ethic as keys to its success.

St. Bartholomew Catholic School received the state’s highest academic honor, designation as a four-star school, for the third consecutive year from the Indiana Department of Education.

Recognition for the school, which wraps up its school year today, signifies excellence in academics leading to high test scores on standardized tests.

The honor is one that St. Bartholomew — which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade — actively works toward, said principal Helen Heckman, who is completing her fourth year leading the school.

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“It’s a combination of everyone working toward the same purpose,” Heckman said. “Education is especially important in these families’ lives.”

St. Bartholomew strives to make a difference in students’ lives, Heckman said. While pleased with the school recognition, Heckman said educators’ focus is elsewhere.

“Probably more important is that our students grow,” Heckman said. “Every child gets that year’s worth of growth.”

John Racanelli, whose sons James, Lucas and Paul all attend St. Bartholomew, said he believes the school provides a solid education, one that he would recommend to others.

“They’re very dedicated and caring with the children,” Racanelli said.

Columbus resident Becky Guthrie — whose grandchildren Clayton and Sydnee Guthrie attend St. Bartholomew — said she believes that once individuals graduate from St. Bartholomew, “they’re ready for high school, no problem.”

Guthrie shared her reasons for believing that.

“They hold them to a higher standard with their morals and their studies,” Guthrie said.

She also praised the school in receiving a four-star designation.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I think they’ve shown time and time again they’re working for the kids.”

Religion at the forefront

Students’ faith plays an important role and serves at the forefront of what St. Bartholomew represents, with about 90 percent of the enrollment coming from church members or other families practicing the Catholic faith, Heckman said.

“It’s what makes a great school,” the principal said. “All of these kids know that it’s important that they go here.”

St. Bartholomew has 385 students enrolled for the 2017-18 school year so far, up from 373 this year, and Heckman predicted future growth is likely to occur.

Joy Etheredge, who teaches second grade and has been at the school for two years, said faith and a service-oriented mindset among students are two driving factors that she believes have played an important role in the school’s academic success.

“This school is extremely special,” Etheredge said. “There’s a huge respect between everybody. We focus on Christ and that makes a huge difference.”

Being named a four-star school for the third year in a row wasn’t a surprise to Andy Syberg, an associate pastor with St. Bartholomew Catholic Church.

“Faith is instrumental in the growth of knowledge,” Syberg said.

Brock Harris, a St. Bartholomew middle school teacher, said it’s important when students put God above everything in front of them that leads them to success if they try hard. Still, he said he believed the work of everyone involved led to the school’s top honor.

“Everyone’s on the same page,” Harris said.

Heckman credited the school’s strong testing results to the dedication shown by teachers and teachers’ assistants, who focus heavily on science and math at the middle school level. Kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers also receive assistance in helping students at those grade levels.

Parent support has been crucial in attaining the four-star school test results, she said.

The school, which has a project-based learning curriculum, also does an annual day of service, Heckman said. This year, kindergarten and first-graders made gift bags for the Columbus police and fire departments, she said.

Four-star criteria

To receive a four-star school designation, an Indiana school must meet the following criteria:

  • A school must have received an “A” school for the 2015-16 school year
  • A school must have tested at least 95 percent of students on ISTEP English/language arts and math
  • Grade 3-8 combined ISTEP pass percentage (pass percentage of English/language arts ISTEP+ and pass percentage of Math ISTEP+) must be in top 25th percentile for each grade tested (minimum of 10 students)
  • 2018 cohort combined End of Course assessments (ECA) pass percentage (percent of students who had passed English 10 ECA and percent of students who had passed Algebra I ECA by end of 10th grade) must be in the top 25th percentile (minimum of 10 students)
  • 2018 cohort percent passing both ECA (percent of students who passed both the English 10 ECA and the Algebra I ECA by the end of their 10th grade) must be in the top 25 percent percentile (minimum of 10 students)

Source: Indiana Department of Education

Area four-star winners

  • St. Bartholomew Catholic School, Columbus
  • Trinity Lutheran High School, Seymour

About St. Bartholomew

Number of students: 373

Number of teachers: 27

Location: 1306 27th St., Columbus

Tuition: Student of a parishioner, $4,175; student from a non-parishioner family, $6,350 annually. About one-third of this year’s students received Indiana Choice scholarships, which cover some or all of students’ tuition depending on a family income.

Phone: 812-379-9353

Website: www.stbirish.net

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com