Senior staff writer
Diversity is turning into a positive in several ways for Perry Township Schools. “The value of education for the diversity we have is probably the heart and soul of the whole school district,” said Superintendent Pat Mapes, who is entering his third year with the district.
Last year for the first time in school district history, most students were non Caucasian: Asian, Hispanic, Near East, African-American and Chin. Mapes sees a unique student body that encourages one another within the district’s four kindergarten academies, 11 elementary schools, two sixth-grade academies, two middle schools and two high schools. He said he’s enthused because more and more minority students are engaged in extracurricular activities.
“Our students who have lived here for several years hear about the other students’ strife and hardships, and, to be honest about it, that brings a different perspective for our students. They have career academic goals because of the opportunities they never have had before.”
For example, 2018 Perry Meridian valedictorian Raul Moreno, who gave his graduation speech in two languages and is majoring in biochemistry at Indiana University. Southport wrestler Ceu Kung was a Max Preps/Semper Fidelis Athlete of the Month. He first attended Perry Schools in elementary school.
“It’s all about dedication and hard work; it makes me tough,” Kung said. The fearful Kung family fled Myanmar to Thailand before coming to America.
“There wasn’t any freedom for us because the military controlled the country,” Kung recalled. “It was very difficult.” Mapes emphasized that diversity - 24 countries and 72 different languages - is interwoven throughout the district. “Diversity is one of the positives for students. They are very well prepared about the real world and what they will see after high school. They already have a great understanding of how to work in a diverse workplace.”
The language barrier is lessened by teacher aides in most classes to help students learn English. Mapes said the state standard is Level 5 for English but that students go beyond that level until they are proficient.
“In elementary schools, their needs are the same as each student in developing a foundation in skills of math, language arts and reading. The kids are mainstreamed but there is support. That diversity really shines in K through 2.”
Perry Township is one of the five fastest-growing districts in the state with an enrollment that jumped from 14,463 in 2011-12 to 16,229 last year. Mapes has been an educator/administrator for 31 years, having served as superintendent at Delaware Community Schools in Muncie, assistant superintendent of public instruction for the Indiana Department of Education and chair of the state’s Education Employment Relations Board.
When Mapes arrived as superintendent, $72 million in construction was underway. A 2015 referendum approved four kindergarten academies and 28 elementary classrooms that opened last year. About $22 million in construction is taking place at both middle schools. The School Board has approved 39 new classrooms for Grades 6-8.