Bethel, Tipp superintendents offer updates

TIPP CITY — The superintendents of the Tipp City and Bethel school districts, Gretta Kumpf and Ginny Potter, discussed the changes and challenges facing their schools at the Tipp City Chamber of Commerce’s State of the School program last week.

The event, held at Coldwater Cafe in Tipp City, gave each superintendent a chance to talk about developments in both districts.

Bethel Local Schools has seen accelerated growth in the last four years, Potter said. The district has grown from under a thousand students just a few years ago, to more than 1,400 this school year. She added that she expects to see the district grow even larger — perhaps to as many as 2,000 students — in the near future as new homes are built in the Carriage Trails development.

This has presented the district with challenges housing those students, and with a growing diversity in the student body.

To address issues of limited space, the district built a new, 75,000 square foot high school addition, which was opened at the beginning of this school year. Potter said the students immediately took to the new building, while the more modern style was more of “a stretch” for staff and some members of the community.

“It was not an adjustment for our students whatsoever,” Potter said. Many people were concerned about having so many windows in the new classrooms and whether they would be a distraction for the students. The district remodeled an older classroom first and found that students were not distracted by the walls of windows. “They didn’t care if you were walking by, they didn’t even look. You know who cared? My age group and the teachers.”

The high school classrooms, which they call studios, also vary in size and are not assigned to any one teacher. Teachers and classes move between classrooms like college classes do, depending on the size of the class, Potter said.

The district has also seen an increase in the numbers of students who speak English as a second language, including Turkish, Russian and Hispanic students. The district will hire a second ESL teacher next school year.

Tipp City is also looking to make changes to or build new facilities, Kumpf said. The district has hosted several community engagement events to discuss possible renovations at the middle school and L.T. Ball Intermediate School and the possibility of a bond issue to construct a new elementary school.

Renovations including new roofing and updated HVAC could begin as early as this summer, she said.

The district sought a bond issue to construct a new elementary school more than a year ago, which failed, Kumpf said. In April, the district will again be reaching out to the community about a new bond issue and possible locations for a pre-kindergarten through third grade building.

“The need has not changed. It still exists and it’s growing all the time,” she said. “Potentially I would say in the next 24 months, we may very well be back on the ballot with a bond issue for that new construction.”

The Tipp City school district is also working on a new strategic plan, which is something Kumpf said has not been done in about 15 years.

“There’s four areas that we’re looking at — academic and student opportunities, climate and culture, facilities and communication,” she said. Kumpf added that district is trying to foster a culture of respect, responsibility and integrity.

The district also adopted a new crest this year that is more “encompassing” of all aspects of education, Kumpf said. It features the arts, academics and athletics.

Both superintendents talked about keeping school curricula current and adapting to a more technology-forward style of learning. Potter stressed the importance of seamless integration of technology in the classrooms, which starts at the elementary school level, because today’s students are “digital natives” and learn differently.

“We need to realize that our kids are living in a different world,” she said, pointing out that many jobs are expected to disappear due to artificial intelligence. “Do you know that in one minute in a video game they’ve probably solved over 150 problems? And then we sit them down and say, ‘Let’s look up this word and give me the definition.’”

Bethel has reestablished a curriculum rotation, Potter said, and has added 14 new classes in recent years. These include robotics, computer coding and a class called Shark Tank, which is meant to teach entrepreneurial skills.

Tipp City has also added new options for students, Kumpf said, including a fashion design class and an art class where students are working to construct tiny houses. Student enrolled in the middle school Design Thinking classes at Tippecanoe Middle School are working to tackle real world problems and learning critical thinking and problem solving skills, Kumpf said.

Kumpf also touched on AP and College Credit Plus classes, which she said have caused the district to reevaluate its student ranking system because of the weighted grades in those classes. She anticipates that in the next few years the district will not name valedictorians and salutatorians, but will adopt a college-style Latin honors system. Students would then receive honors like magna cum laude or summa cum laude instead.