GARY — Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt of the Gary Community School Corp. and the president/CEO of EdisonLearning presented a daring plan to work together, along with the Indiana Department of Education, to continue improving Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
The Indiana State Board of Education held a public hearing Wednesday night at the high school to give residents an opportunity to comment about the school’s future and how to improve the academic performance of students. Members of the SBOE made no comments, and will make a decision at a later meeting.
After six consecutive years of failure, the Indiana Department of Education, led by former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, selected EdisonLearning in 2011 to improve educational opportunities at the high school. Although the law had been on the books since 1999, the state had never taken over a school before.
Pruitt and EdisonLearning President/CEO Thom Jackson stood united and said they wanted to create a Roosevelt that was “reflective of the voices of all stakeholders.” They recommended a collaborative plan that would allow the Gary schools, EdisonLearning and the Indiana Department of Education to work together.
Pruitt and Jackson talked about creating a transformation zone, allowing the district to look holistically at school improvement by forming a transformation zone where other schools would feed into Roosevelt.
Ivy Tech Gary Campus President Marlon Mitchell and Purdue University Northwest’s Roy Hamilton said they supported the collaborative plan.
Mitchell said there was an opportunity to use the 427,306-square foot building for a variety of services. He said the community supported additional services in the vast building including the GCSC administration relocating to Roosevelt, an integrated arts program, an alternative school, a sports hall of fame and the Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and retiring Gary Sen. Earline Rogers both supported the idea of collaboration.
Several Gary Roosevelt students signed up to talk. Senior Princess Tucker said she supports keeping the school open. Tucker said before EdisonLearning took over, she used to get in a lot of fights but she said she’s learned how to be a better person through EdisonLearning. “I went from fighting every day to making As and Bs. I’m the valedictorian,” she said.
Jackson said this plan is just the beginning, and he and Pruitt have been working together for 18 months. He said there are still numerous issues to work out.
Jackson also talked about the challenges EdisonLearning faced when it took over Gary Roosevelt in 2011. He said 75 percent of students did not read at the appropriate grade level, and 87 percent were not at their appropriate grade level in mathematics. He said in the last two years, student achievement has increased 26 percent in mathematics and 12 percent in English.
He said some of the challenges have included a 65 percent attendance rate, more than 100 instances a month of disciplinary and truancy cases, antiquated cooling and heating systems that do not function properly, disorganized learning spaces, bathrooms that were in disrepair and grounds that had not been properly managed.
He said attendance is now up 25 percent, and EdisonLearning hired a full-time truancy officer to work with students and families. Jackson said discipline and truancy cases have been reduced by nearly 70 percent, and EdisonLearning has increased cleanliness and organization within the facility.
If the state board approves the proposal, Jackson and Pruitt said they would clearly identify roles and responsibilities, hire a transition officer, develop a transition and implementation plan, a strategic timeline and a communication plan.