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New Clifty Creek principal leads reform efforts

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School officials are tackling student test performance at Clifty Creek Elementary School as they would eat an elephant — one bite at a time.

Clifty Creek has been designated as a priority school for earning an F in the A-F Accountability system — which is based on ISTEP+ scores — for three years in a row.

As part of that designation, the school was required to take several actions to demonstrate to the state and the public that improvement plans are in place.

ISTEP+ scores released today show those improvement plans seem to be working.

The number of students passing English increased 16.2 points, the biggest gain of any local school.

But math scores stayed about the same, with 61.5 percent of students passing the exam, and overall scores were the lowest in the district.

It is unclear if the improvement will be enough to boost the school’s grade to a C, which will lift the priority school designation.

But Teresa Heiny, director of elementary education for the district, said she is not so concerned with whether the scores were good enough to make the grade.

The scores improved, which is what school officials are focusing on, she said. “You can’t eat the elephant in one bite.”

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent John Quick said Clifty Creek is one big elephant — nearly 80 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced lunches and 13.3 percent are classified as English language learners.

But he’s confident the school has the right leader to bring up the test scores — Gina Pleak.

Pleak took over as principal at the school in March when former principal Cynthia Frost took a medical leave.

Linda DeClue, assistant superintendent of human resources for the district, said Pleak was selected for her relationship-building skills and her experience. Most notably, she had led a turnaround at Waldron Elementary School.

Pleak said jumping into Clifty Creek last year helped her get to know the staff, the students and the direction of the school.

And over the summer, she has helped to recharge the atmosphere there.

“We’re very excited, very positive and very dedicated,” she said. “Providing the best learning opportunities for our students needs to be our priority.”

She and the staff worked on making that happen this summer through professional development and training, including attending the Universal Design for Learning and Project-Based Learning institutes.

All certified staff went on a two-day retreat to Brown County to brainstorm and bond.

There, they created a new motto for the school: “Changing lives is what we do.”

They’ve engraved it on mugs, and it’s prominently displayed on a bulletin board in English and Spanish.

Clifty Creek also has a new Twitter account (@CliftyE) and Instagram (cliftycreek), and Pleak said she hopes parents will follow along and interact.

“It creates unity,” Assistant Principal Lyndsey Linnewebber said.

“It unifies us as a staff so we all see our purpose.”

Maddison McElroy, whose daughter Marli McDermott will be a firs-grader at the school, attended the open house Thursday evening and was impressed with the volunteer sheet in the information packet. She had not noticed that before and said it would be a good way to get parents involved.

Chad Etheridge also visited the school last week with his children Riley and Jackson. He said the school’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“It takes a vested interest,” he said. “We try to assist that and be involved.”

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