A few years ago, during an interview with The Herald Bulletin’s editorial board, a member of the Anderson Community Schools board of trustees said something disheartening.

When asked what could be done to improve poor student test scores, he said, “This is Anderson, Indiana. That’s not something we can change.”

The current school board, administration and teaching staff are disproving that assertion.

This year, ACS’s high school graduation rate climbed to 84 percent, up from 66 percent last year and a low of 54 percent in 2007-08. Such improvement results from student and teacher effort and the implementation of sound education strategies, such as the 8 Step Process for repetition and remediation that has been adopted by ACS.

Kudos to ACS staff members, parents and students. While the goal will always be a graduation rate of 100 percent (the state rate in 2010-11 was 86 percent), the rapid improvement owes to their hard work and dedication.

The progress seems even more impressive when you consider that state law now allows students to transfer freely to other school districts, presumably causing Anderson to lose some of its top students to districts with more resources and better reputations. The state’s private-school voucher program, which helps students afford private school, as well as the growing range of charter schools also cuts into public school systems’ share of top students.

The Anderson Federation of Teachers and particularly its leader, Tom Forkner, deserve credit, as well, for working hand-in-hand with the board and administration to focus on what’s best for students. Forkner has fostered a spirit of teamwork to supplant the antagonism that existed prior to him taking leadership of the union.

More good news came Tuesday night when the ACS board revealed that the school system now has a $5.2 million budget surplus. This was achieved through a necessary, though painful, reduction in staff and facilities over the past few years as enrollment fell from 10,100 in 2006-07 to 8,300 in 2010-11. The budget was in shambles as recently as 2010 when ACS faced a $5 million deficit.

The board voted Tuesday to use some of that surplus to give teachers a raise, bringing salaries back to their 2010 level (pay had been cut by 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, the past two years). Most teachers work hard for their money and are underpaid. The raise acknowledges their dedication and success. It’s much deserved by the vast majority of ACS teachers.

This group of professionals has indeed disproved the idea that the Anderson community can’t change for the better. Just look at the graduation rate.

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