The New Albany-Plain Local Schools benchmarking research team tested its interviewing skills Jan. 24 on teachers in the district's school buildings.

The New Albany-Plain Local Schools benchmarking research team tested its interviewing skills Jan. 24 on teachers in the district's school buildings.

"Everyone is starting to feel very comfortable," said Superintendent April Domine.

Domine trained the travel team to interview people without bias, and Bill Somerlot, a science teacher, taught team members how to write field journals in preparation for the group's February trip to the Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota. The team will be in Minnesota Sunday, Feb. 5, to Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The team will study the district's teaching, classes and administration as part of New Albany's benchmarking program, which is designed "to identify the highest performing and most innovative districts and schools in the nation, to study their performance, find areas in which they excel related to the district's mission and evaluate New Albany-Plain Local's current performance to set specific goals for improvement," according to the district's website.

Team members also tested audio and video programs that could supplement the field notes. Technology specialist Andy Moore developed a website and database for the team. While in Minnesota, team members can enter their field notes and observations and upload audio and video to the website.

School board member Natalie Matt, who is on the travel team, said parents in other states are calling and asking questions about the district's benchmarking process. She said she received a call from a New Jersey parent who heard New Albany-Plain Local is studying the Princeton Regional Schools in New Jersey. The parent wanted to know what New Albany-Plain Local had found in its study.

Matt confirmed that the Princeton Regional Schools were identified by the benchmarking advisory board as a district for further study and that the district will share information electronically with Princeton.

Domine said the benchmarking process - including the website and database - could be used by other districts in the future if New Albany-Plain Local can use it successfully.

In addition to Domine, Matt and Moore, the travel team includes teachers, administrators and a union leader. They are:

• Randy Pfeiffer, the district's interim curriculum director

• Debra Lyons Lowery, a paid consultant to the benchmarking advisory board and a district parent

• Andy Culp, the New Albany Middle School principal

• Ric Stranges, the New Albany High School principal

• Robin Ryan, the 2-5 elementary school principal

• Sarah Cachat, a first-grade teacher

• Diana Smith, a second-grade teacher

• Erika Walsh, a fifth-grade teacher

• Gabe Heselton, a middle school social studies teacher

• Susan Woodmansee, a middle school science teacher

• Karen Morlan, a high school math teacher

• Kirk Hilbrands, a high school social studies teacher

• Mike Covey, the president of the Plain Local Education Association and a high school special education teacher

The visit to the Minnetonka Public Schools, as well as necessary research tools, will be paid for with $50,000 donated by the New Albany Community Foundation and the Corna Kokosing Construction Co. Part of that donation will support a visit by Minnetonka administrators and teachers to New Albany in the spring.

District officials implemented the benchmarking program to help the district work toward its mission of ensuring "the development of high-achieving, ethical, self-directed, and intellectually curious citizens of the world."