At the Elkhart Independent School District, education is a family affair.
When “professional development” classes are scheduled, most people think power-point presentations and human resources lectures. That's not how it rolls at Elkhart ISD.
Students had the day off Friday, so the district scheduled state-required training from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Data was analyzed; successes, as well as opportunities, were discussed; and employees were given continuing education in emergency first-aid.
Once the training was over, however, grills were fired up. A reunion was underway.
Under a banner reading: “Act like a family, work like a team,” EISD faculty and staff enjoyed hamburgers, drinks, fun, games – and, most of all, each other, along with a shared love of their students and profession.
“Today is our family reunion,” Superintendent Lamont Smith told the Herald-Press Friday. “The teachers and staff need to know how much they are appreciated.
“The ISD is the hub of bringing the community together,” Smith said. “We demonstrate our love to the staff, and they, in turn, show love to their students. When parents learn how loved and important their children are to us, they spread that in the community.”
One way Smith showed love to his staff members was by presenting them with their annual bonuses at the end of the celebration. Teachers and administrators received $1,500 apiece, while support staff received $600.
The money is usually distributed later in November.
“They're worth every penny,” Smith said. “None of this could have happened without the tremendous support of the Elkhart School Board. Many of our board members are former students, and some were even taught by a few of our teachers here today. They share our love, vision, and enthusiasm for our students.”
Fourth-grade math teacher Stacy Ray told the Herald-Press that 16 of her 20 years teaching have been with EISD. She wouldn't want it any other way.
“It really is like a family here,” Ray, 45, said. “I know you might expect a higher level of camaraderie in a smaller school district, but to have appreciation shown to us like this is still surprising. Most employers would never do something like this.”
Renee Crouch, who teaches fourth-grade reading, credited Elkhart Intermediate School Principal Gregory Herring with encouraging teamwork and leading by example.
“Mr. Herring is exactly what a leader should be,” Crouch told the Herald-Press. “He is supportive of his staff, maintains a safe and structured environment, and is very family oriented.”
Two of EISD's most senior staff, kindergarten teacher Cathy Walker and fifth-grade art teacher Pat Rainey, said a sense of community and family has kept them with the district for decades.
“What it says on that banner is exactly right,” Rainey, who has spent 29 of her 71 years teaching for EISD said. “We are a family here. These people have gotten me through the hard times, and been with me through the great ones. I wouldn't go anywhere else.”
Walker, 69, a 47-year veteran of EISD, told the Herald-Press the district has it's challenges, like any other family; still, she is where she wants to be.
“I wouldn't have stayed all these years if it wasn't worth it,” she said. “In the beginning, there were fewer people, but I was the only African-American. So, there were challenges there. Now, there are many more people, but that brings its own challenges, too.
“In a family, you have different challenges at different points in your life. Our family here at EISD is no different.”