NAPPANEE — Following the close of the school day Wednesday, Nov. 7, the NorthWood Panther Pit was inundated by a sea of red T-shirts, all worn in the spirit of what seemed like a lively pep session, which, in a sense, it was.
The occasion was to mark an unforgettable moment when the district of Wa-Nee Community Schools was on the receiving end of some incredibly inspiring news. While the sounds of the classic tune, “Celebrate” by Three Dog Night filled the gymnasium, student athletes were buzzing with excitement. Not student athletes in the traditional definition, but for that time being, student athletes had come to represent those individuals who have chosen a career of devoting themselves to exercising, evolving, and enlightening the minds of youth.
It was truly a day when an entire scholastic family could join together and commemorate a true pinnacle of academic excellence. The exhilaration generated by the revelation of an impressive milestone spilled over in exuberant fashion during an afternoon affair to thank administrators, supplementary faculty members, and teachers.
Statistics newly released by the Indiana Department of Education include a system of grades bestowed to school entities based upon their successful scores and degree of improvement for students who’ve taken the ISTEP+ exams. During the announcement of the statewide grading results, it was discovered that all five schools encompassed by the Wa-Nee region achieved perfect “A” scores, the only school district in Elkhart County to accomplish this distinction.
In a statement released prior to the celebration, Superintendent Joe Sabo effused, “I am extremely proud of our teachers, administrative and support staff, and students for being recognized as one of Indiana’s highest performing school districts. Earning an ‘A’ grade as a district, and at all five of our schools, is a significant achievement. The support of parents and community, and the heard work and dedication of staff is exemplary.”
Several of Wa-Nee’s civic leaders were on hand to present their sentiments of gratitude and pride, beginning with introductory remarks from Superintendent Joe Sabo.
“Our achievement is an awesome achievement, and we all did it,” he said. “We have met the challenge to become one of the greatest school corporations in Indiana.”
Wakarusa Town Manager Jeff Troxel spoke on behalf of the town and also served as the representative for the community’s Chamber of Commerce.
“As a product of the Wa-Nee schools and also as a parent, I am very proud of the recognition you have achieved,” he said. “Congratulations and thank you for a job well done.” Troxel added, “The Wakarusa Chamber of Commerce board would like to commend you for your ‘A’ rating. It represents what our community values and understands.”
Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson reminisced a short while over his time as a student and a resident of the Wa-Nee district, reflecting on the many changes he’s witnessed over three generations of raising his family. He was also a member of NorthWood High School’s first graduating class of 1971.
“It’s a real honor to represent the city of Nappanee by being here today,” Thompson said. “This is a place where people are proud to raise a family.”
Alluding to his tenure on the school board, when many district realignments were transpired, he noted,
“We always knew, as we put this network of schools together, that we must always strive for the best education, and we have. This is a total community effort, and without all of you here, this just couldn’t happen.”
Jim Mattern, a fourth grade teacher at Wakarusa Elementary and a fellow 1971 NorthWood alumnus, voiced his thoughts on how the responsibilities of teaching are made easier by the collective backing of a caring community.
“We have such great parental support,” he said. “They help to provide us with the tools we need to help our kids to succeed in school. Working as a team makes all things possible.”
A number of representatives from the Board of School Trustees also addressed the crowd to offer their thankfulness.
Eric Brown, board president, declared, “It’s so encouraging to me. Your hearts say a lot. There’s no excuses on how we got here. Your dedication and your diligence says it all. We don’t need something from the state to tell us that you are very special to us. You’re always ‘A’s to us.”
Board secretary Ed Moser carried on with the common theme of having several generations of family members laying claim to the NorthWood name, while vice-president Don Lehman conveyed how he’s known many educators who “envy our school system. They want to be here.” Member Larry Weaver shared, “You’ll never know how much we appreciate you making us proud of all ‘A’s.”
Superintendent Joe Sabo closed the presentation by citing three specific points through which this award-winning district was forged — a “clear and united focus, great leadership and role models, and professional collaboration.”
“We have unrivaled community support, and we have a professional, dedicated staff who devotes their time and their energy,” he said.
Sabo then informed the educators and staff that a photograph would be taken of everyone sporting their bright blazing red shirts, lettered in black and revealing their newfound honor, and that banners proclaiming their straight “A” status would soon be waving proudly at all five of Wa-Nee’s schools.