How a small, poor school in rural Indiana can pave the way for the future of public education


While we are many years removed from a rural school being nothing more than a one-room building in the middle of nowhere, the perception of rural schools remains unchanged for many: Small and poor with limited opportunities for the children who attend.

Heck, there are some who probably think kids have to walk 5 miles to get to their school and 5 miles to get home — uphill both ways, of course.

We’ve all heard those jokes, but there is nothing funny about the underlying bias at work here: Rural students don’t have the resources of kids in the suburbs and big city, so they have tremendous disadvantages right from the start.

I am here to tell you those biases are wrong. I should know because I am the superintendent of one of the smallest school corporations in the state of Indiana, Crothersville Community School Corp., on Interstate 65 about halfway between Indianapolis and Louisville.

At Crothersville, we do not choose to be complacent or irrelevant. Rather, we choose to be more innovative than anyone else because we understand that a high school diploma is just one of two pieces of paper needed to be prepared to enter the real world. The other is a college diploma or its vocational/workforce equivalent.

We feel that learning is a lifelong process in which each student is a valued individual who has the right to equal opportunities to develop their individual abilities. No student should be denied opportunity simply because of where they attend high school.

How do we achieve this result? By looking beyond our school boundaries to explore partnerships with the public and private sectors to improve student academics and opportunities ahead of the normal curve.

Here are just a few of the things we do:

The Austin Crothersville Early College Initiative is a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College that enables seniors to graduate from high school with an associate degree. This means Crothersville students have the ability to graduate from college two weeks before completing their high school careers.

And for those students who have no interest in going to college, Crothersville has a partnership with Ivy Tech and a local career center that allows our students to earn national and international certifications in any vocation or career they want to pursue, such as precision machining and advanced welding. These advanced certifications give Crothersville students a “leg up” in the hiring process, allowing them to gain employment in their chosen career at least two years earlier than their peers from other high schools.

Consider the practical benefits here. Since Crothersville Community School Corp. pays the tuition costs associated with the degree or the vocational training, that means avoiding a good chunk of student debt. Heck, it could mean avoiding it entirely. At a time when many students find themselves saddled with large college debt — amounts they find themselves paying years into the future — plans like the one at Crothersville offer a welcome dose of reality.

Now consider another factor. For many of us, the toughest time in college was that freshman year. You know, that year when you move away from home and face the challenges of studying and living in a college dorm room. Our early college program gives students the chance to experience that first year of learning while they still have the emotional support of friends and family at home. In addition, they have the ability to become familiar with college-style learning while still in a friendly environment surrounded by their high school teachers and college-level professors.

So you’re asking, what is so special about Crothersville’s education model? After all, pretty much every high school across the country offers some form of college-level credits. As a matter of fact, I witnessed one high school advertising it offered more than 100 hours of college credit.

More is better, right? Not necessarily.

The real fact is that most colleges and universities accept only certain types of general education credits, rather than all of the credits high school students might pursue. Therefore, many courses offer little value beyond taking the actual class.

Furthermore, most college and vocational training school financial aid programs are based on finishing a degree within a certain time span. Most students are not aware that this aid begins when they take their first college-level course, often as early as their junior year in high school. As a result, some students get a notice that they are losing aid when they are in the middle of their junior or senior year in college.

The Crothersville educational model eliminates these problems. When students earn their associate degree or finish their vocational training, all courses transfer to other state universities and advanced training centers. Plus, their financial aid clock starts over. They can earn bachelor’s degrees and in some cases master’s degrees and retain their financial aid while at the traditional four-year college or vocational training center.

Finally, because Crothersville students graduate with a college degree or vocational certification, they are eligible to go to the state university of their choice without going through the rigorous application process. As a matter of fact, state law guarantees their admission.

These innovations are the products of everyone at Crothersville — administrators, teachers, parents and students — working together toward a common goal: The realization that a college education and vocational advancement is affordable and realistic.

Terry Goodin is the superintendent for Crothersville Community School Corp. and a state representative in the Indiana General Assembly. He can be reached at 812-793-2601 or email [email protected]. Send comments to awoods@

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