Trustees looking into the ‘horizon’

NAPPANEE — Members of the Wa-Nee Community Board of School Trustees are in a state of contemplation these days, pondering how, or even if, they should become affiliated with the county-based organization known as Horizon Education Alliance.
On the evening of Monday, Oct. 22, Horizon’s new executive director, Brian Wiebe, appeared before the board, prepared and eager to provide details, share enthusiasm, and bolster the group’s profile. By evening’s end, the members came away with more reassurance that they can render an informed decision in the near future.
Horizon Education Alliance’s formation actually dates back to 2003, but has been experiencing varying levels of efficiency over the years, as committee members and directors have moved on to other commitments. It was created with the intention of enhancing the services currently offered at Elkhart County’s school districts. The organization’s board and committee members are comprised of business leaders, educators and administrators, entrepreneurs, and other individuals dedicated to the cause of academic empowerment.
Brian Wiebe is the newly-installed executive director, arriving at this career juncture with more than 25 years of involvement with a wide variety of educational credentials. Wiebe and fellow Horizon members have been working vigorously to relaunch the program with new ideas and goals. 
The group has also met with several of the members from the Wa-Nee school board, answering questions and projecting more specifics about Horizon’s hopes and intentions. Presently, Wa-Nee and Fairfield are the remaining two districts that have not officially become devoted to participation.
Wiebe said that Horizon’s primary mission is to nurture the total student “from cradle to career,” before asking the board directly, “What educational issues do you care the most about?”
Several responses were bandied about, including board member Larry Weaver’s concern that there is occasionally perceived to be a shortfall of resources available for non-traditional scholars who are not college-bound following high school. Superintendent Joe Sabo cited his desire to continue fine tuning the full-day kindergarten program and ensuring that youngsters are adequately ready for the classroom experience. And board member Shawn Johnson noted the need for helping young adults ease through the transition from higher education to career preparedness.
Wiebe then outlined a general encompassing list of goals, as well as Horizon’s main mission. The latter is specified as “to facilitate collaboration focused on helping all people in Elkhart County become lifelong learners and contributing citizens.”
Six “strategic goals” were also set forth by Horizon, including:
— Every child will be “kindergarten ready” by age five. Full implementation of this project will be carried out by 2022.
— Every child will be academically, socially, and physically ready for high school by the end of eighth grade, with 13 years henceforth set for realization.
— All students will graduate from high school and attain a post-secondary certificate or degree, with a timeline of 15 years to incorporate.
— Each child has a parent and/or caregiver engaged in their learning, to take place over the next 20 years.
— Establish a culture of life-long learning, also anticipated for a 20-year inclusion.
— A creative, educated, and highly skilled workforce exists, all within the following 20 years.
Listening intently to what Wiebe had to say, board members expressed both optimism and hesitation. Does this amount to “all talk, no action,” they asked Wiebe.
Wiebe assured them that this is not going to be the case. He explained that committees have been formed, short-term goals firmly established, donations being procured, and grant funds being researched.
He specifically talked of two examples in which enrichment programs are being planned for infants and preschoolers. One proposed offering, “Music Together,” is targeted for babies, helping them to develop music appreciation skills. Another prospective program, “Tools of the Mind,” helps children under the age of five broaden their learning opportunities to help them grow into future students.
Other questions that were proffered by the board included the potential cost to the district and making sure that Horizon volunteers and staff members have sufficient training and credentials. Wiebe said that the most realistic idea would be to have each district take on the cost of $1 per student. He also emphasized that it is not Horizon’s intent to dictate issues to the board, nor do they intend to diminish or replace existing programs. Every idea and every new concept is approached with a spirit of partnership, he said.
Lastly, the board wondered aloud what Horizon could provide or add to a district that is already renowned and recognized for their exemplary achievements in academics, fine arts, athletics, and other fields within the scholastic career.  Sabo said that resolving much of those uncertainties can be addressed by asking “What’s next for our board and for Horizon?”
The ideal solution, Sabo continued, would be to continue establishing points of contact with various institutions currently involved with Horizon and asking for their input, volunteering to attend future meetings, and keep the discussion going with regard to goals. Taking those steps will help the board gain more insight on whether this is a venture they wish to fully endorse.
The next session of the Wa-Nee Board of School Trustees will take place Monday, Nov. 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m. This meeting will be held at NorthWood High School and is open to the public.