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Roosevelt transformation plan up to state

The Gary Community School Corp. and EdisonLearning want to operate the Roosevelt College and Career Academy jointly next year, with support from the state.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz chaired a public hearing Wednesday at Roosevelt where officials laid out a broad-based transitional plan for the school, which was established during the 1920s to separate black students from white students in public schools.

The Indiana State Board of Education will consider the proposal at its April 15 meeting in Indianapolis.

EdisonLearning, a private, for-profit company, has run Roosevelt since 2011, winning accolades from students and parents. The state turned to EdisonLearning after the school posted six straight F report cards. The state's contract with EdisonLearning runs out in June, and it's up to the state to determine the next step for the school.

At the outset, the school district and EdisonLearning bickered over the operation of the school. Since then, they've developed a collaborative transition plan for the 2016-17 school year that officials hope the state approves. A state accountability law dictates several options for the state.

The district and EdisonLearning are proposing the creation of a "transformation zone," an education reform model aimed at turning around low-performing schools by grouping them together and providing them with extra support. Students from those schools would feed into Roosevelt, said Assistant Superintendent Cordia Moore. The model has been used with success in the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. since 2012.

Gary officials also want to create an "innovative school network," which gives schools autonomy to create charter-like innovations to improve struggling schools. Previously, only the Indianapolis Public Schools could use the reform, but a 2015 state law extended it statewide. Indianapolis Public Schools used the measure to partner with charter schools, including the Phalen Leadership Academy. Indianapolis Public Schools officials hoped the reform would slow the exodus of students to charter schools.

On Wednesday, few speakers addressed the specific plans outlined by school officials. Many students said they liked the improved climate at Roosevelt under EdisonLearning and they want it to continue. Other adults praised the legacy of Roosevelt and wanted it continue.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, a Roosevelt graduate, said the proposal is aimed at restoring academic excellence while maintaining Roosevelt's legacy.

Thom Jackson, the president and CEO of EdisonLearning, pointed to academic improvement under his company's watch. Student achievement has increased 26 percent in math and 12 percent in English, although the school still received a grade of F on its last report card. Jackson said 85 percent of graduates are enrolled in college or other post-secondary schools, or have jobs.

The size of the school is a challenge, Jackson said. The enrollment of 651 students is small for a space of 427,000 square feet, he said. The annual utility cost is $1.14 million.

At recent forums, citizens suggested a multipurpose use for the rest of the building that involved support from Roosevelt alumni.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, also a Roosevelt graduate, said she felt discouraged in 2011 when EdisonLearning arrived. Since then, she's seen the cooperation between the state, school district and EdisonLearning.

"I know we are on the right track. Everybody cares about not just what happens to our school, but to our children," Freeman-Wilson said.

Ritz listened to the steady parade of comments until the hearing concluded. "I know you care passionately about your children and the education they receive," she told the audience.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-roosevelt-state-hearing-st-0325-20160324-story.html