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Small school, big achievements

Some stories are simply fun to tell. That's the case with this one, about Garrett High School in DeKalb County. It's a small district – of the size that Gov. Mitch Daniels would like to see consolidated – but it takes a back seat to no others in terms of pushing for the latest in effective instructional approaches.

That's the driver behind the high school project. Garrett needed a building to accommodate the first-rate technology being used there. When finished, it will have a high-tech recording studio that is likely to produce some amazing work.

I first wrote about the Garrett-Keyser-Butler district in 2005, when I detailed the quality improvement model then-Superintendent Alan Middleton put in place to great success. When he retired, the school board hired an administrator with the same passion for bringing 21st-century approaches to the rural district.

Superintendent Dennis Stockdale's work also caught the attention of Education Week blogger Diette Courrege, who wrote last week about the technology focus he has brought to Garrett-Keyser-Butler. Last week, the school distributed MacBooks to every student in grades 7 to 12 and iPads to every student in kindergarten through grade 6.

"The technological progress is impressive, especially considering that many rural communities struggle simply to offer their students broadband Internet access," Correge writes. "Although 63 percent of Americans had Internet connection at home in 2009, that figure was only 46 percent in rural areas, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project."

Stockdale also spearheaded a new partnership with Ivy Tech Northeast to support adult education in the community, recognizing that some Garrett graduates left school without the skills or confidence to move on to higher education.

When the conversation heats up once again to suggest that small school districts are inefficient and don't allow students the opportunities they deserve, just remember Garrett-Keyser-Butler.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at