Connersville — Educational leaders are collaborating in East Central Indiana to transform the learning recovery ahead. As schools are working to address the impact of COVID-19, they are exploring innovative ways to meet students’ needs.

The East Central Educational Service Center (ECESC) is made up of school districts – including multiple districts that serve Henry County families – economic and mental health agencies and universities.

New community partners continue to join and the ECESC seeks to add more as it helps 29 of its member schools tackle those barriers as part of the $3.5 million Student Learning Recovery Grant funded through House Bill 1008. Listed grant partners also include IU East, Ball State and Ivy Tech.

“We have the opportunity to lead in Indiana,” state Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said in a panel discussion at the ECESC in Connersville earlier this month. As she noted that “kids are more than just a data point, and we know that as educators,” the room filled with educational leaders from school districts across eastern Indiana erupted in applause.


Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner speaks at the East Central Educational Service Center’s Gala event earlier this month with Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis and Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann.

“How might we get out of our own way and break down these barriers?” Jenner asked.“The only way is for K-12 and higher education to sit at the table together.”

ECESC created the platform to start that conversation at its event Sept. 1 by bringing Jenner together with Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, Sue Ellspermann, former Lt. Governor and president of Ivy Tech Community College, Jason Callahan, Assistant Secretary of Student Pathways and Opportunities at the IDOE, leaders from 27 Eastern Indiana school districts, and several community partners.

“The only way this work gets done is if we all partner together,” Ellspermann said. “We can’t partner enough, and that is the way we are all going to win.”

Sherri Bergum, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Elementary Programs for New Castle Community School Corporation, represented the city’s families at the gala.

“We are happy to begin work with this collaboration of schools and community partners on the Governor’s 1008 Grant along with the ECESC and Katie Lash,” Bergum said. “Great night hearing Human Work author Jamie Merisotis, a panel including Dr. Katie Jenner, and meeting our partners. I look forward to the work ahead to assure success now and in the future for our students, communities, and state.”

Representatives from Nettle Creek School Corporation also attended the ECESC event.

Hagerstown Elementary School teacher Chandler Cross said, “Alignment is critical to the success of any endeavor. Having multiple educational stakeholders all together for one evening committed to one common goal speaks very highly to the value that is placed on education here in East Central Indiana. This commitment will ensure student success moving forward both in education and in the workforce.”

Nettle Creek Superintendent Dr. Kyle Barrentine added, “The Student Learning Recovery Grant Gala was a great example of people from K-12, Higher Education, and industry coming together to collaborate for the benefit of our communities. Being future focused and improving outcomes for students are the ultimate objectives of the grant.”

“The real value of this grant is the system for collaboration and robust networking,” Katie Lash, Executive Director of the ECESC, said. “We will be in your districts alongside you making sure that we are bringing tools and resources that align with the priorities specific to our region and build capacity in our East Central Indiana schools.”

One of the greatest needs in education is human work to support student learning, which is what each of the primary grant partners is providing in some form. Merisotis addressed the need for “thinking critically, reasoning ethically, interacting interpersonally, and serving others with empathy” in our schools as he shared his vision from his most recent book, Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines.

“These rural communities are the core of what we should be focusing on for long term transition opportunities,” Merisotis said. “We have to do a better job collaborating regionally and statewide to learn from others.”

The evening focused on the grant’s shared vision of supporting K-12 schools in their most important work. Districts will have the opportunity to create goals that are specific to their students and local communities, as collaboration will continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic.