News & Events

New School Gives Dropouts a Second Chance

New school gives dropouts a second chance

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - November 3, 2014 – A new school in Norfolk is working to end poverty by giving students a second chance. The Norfolk Public Schools Open Campus – A Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy allows students to get their high school diplomas and learn life skills. The ‘open campus’ is for high school dropouts and students who are overage for their grade level.

Marquis White is a student at Open Campus. He said, “I was behind in a grade and I was trying to catch up.”

“I was saying that I was going to school, but I would go to school some days. The majority of days I didn’t go,” said Alexis Mitchell, a 19-year-old student.

“We have children who are homeless. Children who are living with friends. Some children who have nowhere to live. We’re dealing with children who need to work and need help,” Program Director Daun Hester said.

Mitchell dropped out of high school just three months before she may have graduated and two months into a pregnancy. “A lady made a left turn in front of us and cut us off. The airbag deployed at 200 miles per hour and detached my placenta and then I had a seat belt on. [The baby] was flipped, getting ready to come down the birth canal and the seat belt locked on my stomach and fractured her skull in the front,” Mitchell said.

Her daughter died after seven hours of life. “She was my biggest blessing, and I still love her to life, but I feel like I’m destined to do more, and God knew that by me having her I would have just settled, because she was my baby,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell is not settling. She is now only five and a half credits from getting her high school diploma and plans to graduate in January. “I would have done anything to get it,” Mitchell said. She is one of 125 students at Open Campus. It is the only school of its kind in the state.

Right now there is a waiting list for other students looking to attend, but officials plan to double the number of students allowed there as early as January.

Click link to view video report:

Gary, EdisonLearning forge bold, new partnership

Gary, EdisonLearning forge bold, new partnership

(Gary Post Tribune) – December 4, 2014 - EdisonLearning Inc. and the Gary Community School Corp. told the State Board of Education in Indianapolis Wednesday they plan to work together to establish a systemic approach to fixing the school district’s academic and financial troubles.

Once bitter adversaries, the two are now pairing up in a public-private partnership aimed at correcting long, festering issues that have dogged the urban school district of nearly 7,000 students.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt literally locked arms with EdisonLearning President and CEO Thom Jackson saying they will present their detailed improvement plan at the board’s Jan. 7 meeting. “It’s a bold plan built upon the pillar of local leadership. It will require funding,” Jackson said.

In 2011, the state named EdisonLearning to serve as the turnaround operator for the Roosevelt College and Career Academy, a high school on the state’s intervention short list. Turf turmoil quickly erupted in battles over broken boilers, burst pipes, snow removal, transportation and other issues. That discord led a state turnaround committee to make a series of recommendations to the state board Wednesday.

The board postponed intervention action on Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School, pending the creation of the comprehensive plan.

State board member Tony Walker, who represents Northwest Indiana, said he was opposed to state takeovers like Roosevelt and that school districts should be allowed to select their own turnaround partner. Last summer, Jackson was elevated to his new role. From there, he and Pruitt forged a strong, working relationship.

“What a difference now between Edison and the Gary Community School Corp.,” said Walker. “I’m so excited, I could do back flips.” Walker said Gary and EdisonLearning came together on their own. “This is exactly the kind of model were hoping for.”

Pruitt hammered away at the state board to push for more funding. “Regardless of how we got here, we’re here. The onus just isn’t on me, it’s on everyone who is here. That includes putting some money in Gary to help us with financial issues.”

Pruitt told the board it’s been hit hard by a low property tax collection rate. Last year, it was 42 percent. Tax caps have also hurt, along with declining enrollment and a new state funding formula. “Don’t disenfranchise the community anymore. We have the highest number of charters, we have vouchers and every education effort that’s supposed to work put into Gary. It’s time to stop.”

Jackson said a piecemeal approach of trying to turn one school around in a troubled district doesn’t work. “You can’t just address one school when the problems are systemic,” he said.

Gary schools to tap EdisonLearning as partner

Gary schools to tap EdisonLearning as partner

INDIANAPOLIS (NWIndiana Times) – December 4, 2014 - The Gary Community School Corp. and EdisonLearning have established a partnership to improve all schools. After an acrimonious relationship, Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and EdisonLearning CEO/President Thom Jackson told the Indiana State Board of Education, EdisonLearning would be its "external partner" to improve all struggling Gary schools, and the two would develop a plan and present it in January.

Three years ago, the State Board of Education removed Gary Roosevelt from operation by the school corporation and appointed private Tennesse-based EdisonLearning to operate the failing high school, creating conflict and confusion between the two.

The concept to use an external partner is in line with a series of recommendations approved Wednesday by the State Board of Education, which decided to create its own turnaround unit to monitor school turnarounds. The state board was set to vote on extending EdisonLearning's contract in Gary by two years and make some decisions regarding Dunbar-Pulaski, which also has had failing grades for six consecutive years. 

In an emotional plea to the board, Pruitt said she and Jackson have developed a cordial relationship and intend to work together to develop a plan to improve the school district.

"It's not just the academic program," Pruitt said. "It's also the buildings and the finances. Thom Jackson and I have locked arms to do what is best for children. We're proposing that EdisonLearning serve as our external provider. We will look at our finances, buildings and grounds and academics. We want to make sure that we touch every area. We want a multi-year approach, creating a financial improvement plan, talent management and academic improvement plan."

Jackson said, "We support the approach identified by Dr. Pruitt. One of the things we've learned is that you can't tackle a problem with one school. The problems in Gary are manifold."

Gary attorney Tony Walker, a state board member, said he was happy to see the relationship between Gary and EdisonLearning has improved. "It shows the type of leadership we have in Gary with Edison Learning and Superintendent Pruitt. I’ve seen the progress at Roosevelt under Edison and I’m very excited about the prospects of both parties partnering to improve the entire school district,” he said.

The board agreed to hold off on any decision regarding EdisonLearning, Roosevelt and Dunbar-Pulaski until Pruitt comes back with a comprehensive plan at its January meeting. The school district continues to work with the U.S. Department of Education regarding its "high risk" designation. It is the only district in the state rated F.

New Norfolk MJBA Highlight of Video Report

New Norfolk MJBA Highlight of Video Report

(October 23, 2014) “NPS Now” is a weekly program featuring news, sports, and information about Norfolk Public Schools. This week's show takes a closer look at the NPS Open Campus - A Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy.

Click here to view:

New school for drop outs opens in Norfolk

New school for drop outs opens in Norfolk

NORFOLK (October 1, 2014) - A new school for high school drop outs and students who have fallen behind is opening this week. Norfolk Public Schools' "Open Campus, A Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy" is a new, alternative way to earn your high school diploma.

The program is starting with 125 students, including 100 dropouts, 20 middle school students who are behind by about two years, and five high school students behind by five or more credits. Students attend school 4 hours a day, and learn through a combination of accredited online courses and face-to-face teaching.

About $429,000 in state funding will cover most of the cost of the new school, and NPS will pay about $248,000 toward the program. This will be the first "open campus" in Virginia, but there are similar programs nationwide. Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy and EdisonLearning will work with the division to run the program. The new school is part of Norfolk schools' transformation initiative to improve student achievement. Officials hope to expand the "Open Campus" to accept more students in the future.

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EdisonLearning Announces Prominent Additions to Leadership Team

EdisonLearning Announces Prominent Additions to Leadership Team

Jersey City, NJ (September 30, 2014) -- EdisonLearning, the leading international educational services provider, today announced the appointment of two new members of the organization’s senior leadership team.

Thom Jackson, EdisonLearning’s President and Chief Executive Officer, announced that Doug Mesecar, a former senior official with the U.S. Department of Education, has joined the organization in the role of Senior Vice President, Blended Learning Solutions.  Mr. Jackson said that, “Doug Mesecar will lead us in the development of a new service delivery model, which combines our Charter School and Virtual Education divisions to create a unique and innovative Blended Learning Solution for our customers.’

“This is not only a substantive change in our service delivery model, but it will ultimately transform our entire company -- leveraging our rich history as a founder of the charter school sector, with our well received and innovative approach in virtual and alternative education to provide new, research-proven solutions for eliminating the achievement gap,” Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Jackson simultaneously announced that Curtiss Stancil has joined the organization as Senior Vice President. “Curtiss Stancil brings more than 25 years of executive management leadership, business development, sales, operations and strategic marketing experience to our efforts,” Mr. Jackson said.

Doug Mesecar has served in senior operational and policy roles at leading education companies, the U.S. Department of Education, and in Congress.  At the U.S. Department of Education, his roles included Deputy Chief of Staff of the Department, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, and Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

Mr. Mesecar also led the school services and education technology implementation for Sylvan Learning as Vice President for Contract Programs and SylvanSync; and he gained valuable experience in curriculum development and education technology as Vice President of Math and Strategic Initiatives at Scholastic Education.

Most recently, Mr. Stancil has been an equity owner and President, of CurtMont Global, an integrated services and strategic business development company.  Earlier in his career, he served as Vice President, Sales for Sodexo USA, and was responsible for sales, marketing, operations and business development for colleges, universities and large urban K-12 school districts.  In addition, he held various executive level sales, strategy and marketing positions with Proctor & Gamble, L’Oreal, Gibson Greetings, First Transit, GEMS Education and Carson Products. 

Mr. Jackson noted that both individuals had previous tenures with EdisonLearning, “An important aspect of both Curtiss and Doug re-joining our organization is that they know the students we help to educate, they understand and are vested in both our mission and vision, and each of them has an authentic passion for disrupting education to eliminate the achievement gap.”

Paradigm shift needed in school takeovers, educators say

Paradigm shift needed in school takeovers, educators say

GARY (September 22, 2014) | Creating an educational environment where every student can succeed will take a paradigm shift to partnerships and collaboration between every stakeholder and away from all punitive actions and antagonism. The Indiana State Board of Education Committee on School Turnarounds heard that message repeatedly during a special meeting Friday at Indiana University Northwest to discuss and review the current turnaround activities at Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy.

Tony Walker, a Gary attorney representing the 1st Congressional District appointed by Gov. Mitchell Daniels in 2010, is a member of the three-person committee. The other two are Sarah O’Brien, an elementary school teacher in Avon who represents the 4th District, and Daniel Elsener, the president of Marian University in Indianapolis who represents the 7th District. O'Brien and Elsener were reappointed by Gov. Mike Pence in 2013.

School turnarounds began in 1999 when the Indiana General Assembly passed Public Law 221 in a bipartisan effort. Also called "the school improvement law," PL 221 gave the State Board of Education the authority to intervene in what have been labeled failing schools. It was in response to the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

The turnaround of the historic Gary high school that opened in 1929 has been fraught with major challenges that have ended up in court, according to both Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and Donna Henry, the school's principal.

One of the major issues continues to be who is responsible for maintaining and upgrading the old building, Pruitt and Henry said. Crumbling infrastructure, bathrooms in disrepair, damaged lockers and non-functioning heating/cooling equipment were among the problems found during a comprehensive building survey completed by EdisonLearning in May 2012, Henry said.

The terms "turnaround," "takeover" and "failing schools" create a negative impact in the community, said Thom Jackson, the new president and CEO of EdisonLearning Inc., which was founded 22 years ago and is one of the pioneers in charter school education in the nation.

"When you say we’re going to take you over, you already cast the school corporation as the villain," Jackson said. "The district felt indicted by our presence." He recommended that the state board of education "get the district to the table so the district feels it is a partner" and that the problems at Roosevelt be seen as a symptom of what’s also going on in the Gary education system from pre-K through middle school.

If students aren’t prepared to learn in those grades, the challenges will only be magnified when those students reach high school, Jackson said. He recommended using the model EdisonLearning uses to create new climates at the rest of the Gary public schools.

Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy has achieved the following benchmarks since EdisonLearning Inc. was selected in 2012 to take over the failing Gary high school, according to Principal Donna Henry:

  • Graduation rate is now 54 percent, compared to 47 percent pre-turnaround
  • 77 percent of graduating seniors are enrolled in two- to four-year colleges or vocational programs, compared with 60 percent previously
  • ISTEP+ proficiency test outcomes have nearly doubled with an increase of 9.9 points since the turnaround
  • Proficient/advanced literacy levels have increased 28 percent, from 13 percent to 41 percent.
  • Student attendance is now 81 percent, compared with 67 percent pre-turnaround.
  • Monthly disciplinary referrals have declined to 9.8 percent, compared to 19.3 percent.
  • A full-time truancy officer has been hired who works with the courts to assist families and curtail truancy.
  • Truancy referrals have declined by more than half to 32 compared to 73 at the time of the turnaround. EdisonLearning has invested more than $150,000 in building repairs to ensure successful school operations.

Gary, EdisonLearning urge state to make school turnarounds smoother

Gary, EdisonLearning urge state to make school turnarounds smoother

GARY (September 22, 2014)  — The 2011 removal of Roosevelt High School from the Gary Community School Corp. seemed like a hostile takeover, members of a State Board of Education committee learned Friday.

“It was very clear the district felt indicted by our very presence,” said Thom Jackson, chief executive and president of EdisonLearning Inc., the education manager tapped to turn around the failing school under a 1999 state accountability measure.

Jackson and Gary School Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt told the State Board Committee on School Turnarounds that collaboration, not conflict is critical to a successful transition during a takeover. Roosevelt is one of six Indiana schools being operated by turnaround firms after posting six straight years of poor academic performance. One other Gary school, Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School, is in the turnaround pipeline, entering year six. The state is evaluating its turnaround process.

EdisonLearning began assessing Roosevelt’s needs one year prior to its operating the school in 2012. The company had to register students, obtain academic transcripts, hire teachers and staff and deal with maintenance issues. “Our biggest challenge in the first year was who’s going to pay the price of change, not that the district didn’t want change,” Jackson said.

EdisonLearning installed new lockers and lighting and painted the walls. It also installed a trophy case after awards were found in a closet. “We had a 1929 building that needed tremendous repairs — $150,000 was just a drop in the bucket,” Jackson said. “You can’t look at turnaround efforts in a vacuum. You have to give that district an opportunity at the table as well.”

Duluth Comes Together for Anti-Bullying Block Party

Duluth Comes Together for Anti-Bullying Block Party

DULUTH (September 15, 2014) - Thursday evening, families at Duluth’s Edison Charter School Raleigh had fun at their annual anti-bullying block party. Kids danced to the music, ate cotton candy, and had a blast in the bouncy house.  The goal was to bring students, parents, and teachers together to end bullying at their school.

"People need to know what bullying is - what it looks like,” said school social worker, Carrie Preiner, “and how to be an active bystander how to prevent it."  About 300 people participated in the event.  Students and educators take steps to prevent bullying on a daily basis, and hope the block party puts everyone on the same page.

Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies Opens Englewood Campus for CPS Students

Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies Opens Englewood Campus for CPS Students

ENGLEWOOD, Chicago ((September 11, 2014) — For the second time in less than a year, the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies has opened an alternative high school on the South Side. Magic Johnson Bridgescape opened an Englewood campus inside the Salvation Army building at 845 W. 69th St. in September. Last November, a campus opened at 10928 S. Halsted St. in Roseland. The schools are part of the Chicago Public Schools Alternative Learning Opportunity Program.

Senior Sasha Clemons, 17, is among the 75 students currently enrolled at the new campus. She attended Kenwood Academy High School as a junior and Oak Park-River Forest High School for her freshman and sophomore years. "I started getting with the wrong crowd and not going to school when I was at Kenwood and Oak Park," Clemons said. "This is my last year in high school and I need a different setting so I can concentrate on my school work."

The Hyde Park resident said she chose Bridgescape over other schools because she had a friend who attended the alternative school and graduated. "My friend said she was able to get herself together by coming to Magic Johnson and said it was a good place to get caught up," Clemons said. "Now that I am here I agree with my friend. This is the best fit for me. I get to pick the time I want to come to school and I am not here all day."

Students get to choose which session they want to attend. There is a morning session from 7:30-11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, and an afternoon session from noon-4 p.m., which Clemons attends.

"All of our classes are online and it's quiet here. I don't have all those distractions I had when I attended other schools," Clemons said. After graduating, Clemons said she plans to go to college and study business management before becoming an entrepreneur."I want to own some stores and restaurants when I finish college," she said.

The school has capacity for 100 students and registration is still open for students age 13 to 21, said Veriner James, program director for the Englewood campus. "We don't want to turn any student away but it is our preference that a student has experienced at least one year at a traditional high school," James said. "We do not give homework either because we know not all students have computers at home. All of their school work is completed while they are here."

In June, a graduation ceremony will be held for all students who graduated from one of school's four campuses located in Roseland, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park and Englewood. Students who earn diplomas from the alternative school will have the high school in their neighborhood listed on the diploma, per CPS policy.

Students 18 and older can register without their parents but should bring valid identification — such as a driver's license, state ID or passport — as well as a birth certificate and a piece of mail, such as a utility bill, received in the last 30 days. Official transcripts will also be obtained and immunizations must be current.

James added that students must withdraw from their previous school and be able to earn all their missing credits by age 21 to be accepted. All mandated courses — from English and chemistry, to world history and algebra — are offered at Magic Johnson, said James, a former teacher at Holy Angles Elementary School in Bronzeville.

"Our goal is to help as many students as possible earn their high school diploma," James said.

There are also Magic Johnson Bridgescape campuses in New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.