I first learned about Stefan Stoykov via Facebook April 8. My fellow alumni shared and commented on the announcement from North Central High School about the young man who was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools on the U.S. eastern seaboard. Former students posted comments like "This is my school!" "PantherPride 4ever!" and "Congratulations to him and Washington Township schools!" to show praise for one of our own.
In the immediate days that followed, Stefan found himself in The Indianapolis Star and on several television stations in town. He even Skyped with a television news station in his native country of Bulgaria.
That's one of the things that made his story so newsworthy. Not because Stefan was accepted to the most elite colleges in the country, not because he is ranked at the top of his graduating class with a 5.3 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), not because he received a perfect score on the SAT and not because he received the highest score possible on the AP English Literature exam.
Well, maybe that last one is significant.
At least it is for Stefan. It is significant because when he began his education at the age of eight in the second grade at Nora Elementary School Stefan could not speak, read or understand a single word of English.
Eight days later after the announcement of Stefan's success, The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability released a report indicating that students who use vouchers to attend private schools in Indiana do no better than those who attend public schools. Their analysis went on to say that students who live in poverty, are learning English as a new language (like Stefan) or have special needs and attend public schools actually outperform their peers who attend charter or private schools.
It may or may not have been a coincidence that the CTBA's report came out so close to the announcement of Stefan's success, but his story certainly is proof that their analysis has merit.
In other words, despite what some members of the state legislature and even the State Board of Education might lead us to believe, public education in Indiana still works.
In 2004, Stefan moved to the United States with his mother, father and younger brother.
"There weren't a lot of employment opportunities in Bulgaria at the time and the jobs there didn't pay very well, so my family ended up moving," said Stefan, sitting in the Media Resource Center at North Central High School. "They [my parents] knew that the education I would receive here would prepare me to have a fulfilling career and I wouldn't have to work in tedious jobs. So the desire for a better life is what really motivated my family to move here."
But as Stefan recalled it wasn't an easy transition. His first day of school was a frightening one.