When Helen Crawford was teaching high-ability students in Greenwood, she tried to get them out of the classroom as often as possible.
In the mid-1980s, Crawford was teaching students who had the potential to complete more complex assignments faster than traditional students. They regularly took field trips into Indianapolis to visit art museums and the zoo.
School field trips to zoos and museums aren’t unique — what set Crawford’s apart is that she would take the students on these trips three or four times per month.
That gave students the chance to take more than a fleeting glance at lessons in art or biology. They also were able to complete more hands-on projects with experts, such as dissecting worms at the zoo.
“It was just so rewarding to me to be able to get the kids exposed to those activities that we did that you normally wouldn’t have been able to do,” Crawford said.
Regularly taking students on hands-on field trips no longer is practical for a few reasons. First, the cost of fuel is too high. Secondly, as state standards such as the scores and improvements students must show on tests such as ISTEP have increased, fewer teachers feel they can afford to take their students out of the classroom, educators said.
As standards in education have changed, Crawford has been essential in helping the school district make the necessary transitions. Along with helping launch Greenwood’s high-ability program, she also oversaw the implementation of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus and other required exams as the school district’s director of elementary curriculum.
She retired last month after nearly 40 years with Greenwood schools.
“It would be very difficult to overestimate Helen’s importance to some very significant parts of the educational program here,” assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.
Crawford started her teaching career at a middle school in northern Indiana in 1962 and moved to Greenwood in 1974. She was a substitute at Southwest Elementary School before being hired full time in 1975.
Crawford taught fifth grade until helping start Greenwood’s gifted program — or what’s now known as high ability — in the 1980s. Typically that meant she taught more rigorous, challenging lessons to the high-ability students once a week, along with taking them on the field trips she organized.
Today high-ability students at Greenwood and some other school districts typically aren’t pulled out of their regular classes. They still receive more challenging assignments, which they complete alongside students who are working on more traditional lessons, Crawford said.
Ideally, she’d like to see Greenwood find a way to hire more teachers focused on creating more high-ability lessons. Because traditional and high-ability students now spend more time working together, those rigorous lessons could be used by both sets of students, she said.
In the mid-1990s, Crawford became Greenwood’s director of elementary curriculum.
That meant she helped oversee the lessons being taught in the school district’s elementary schools, but she was also key as Greenwood started using ISTEP and other standardized tests required by the state.
State tests have to be handled and given under specific sets of circumstances. The instructions say who can administer tests, what can be done while students are taking them and how they have to be secured.
In a district such as Greenwood, with 3,000 students taking ISTEP, there’s the potential for plenty to go wrong, Ahlgrim said.
To ensure that didn’t happen, Crawford often spent late nights in schools, making sure exams were properly sorted, and visiting school buildings to ensure teachers were properly trained on the test.
After testing was complete, she worked with other school officials and teachers to analyze the results and see if any of the lessons students were learning needed to be changed.
“There were lots of places where that could have gone wrong in implementation. It’s not an easy process from a procedural point of view. And Helen was the one who shepherded the introduction, the orientation and the implementation of that high-stakes testing into what it is
today, here in the district,” Ahlgrim said.