Indiana approves school takeover plan

Roosevelt High School in Gary on the list

August 29, 2011

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(Michael Puente/WBEZ)
Roosevelt Career & Technical Academy, a high school in Gary, Indiana.

The Indiana State Board of Education approved allowing private firms to take over five failing schools; four in Indianapolis and one in Gary.  The board’s move came as a result of recommendations set forth by the state’s schools Superintendent Tony Bennett. Bennett said the schools have been failing for years, and something needed to be done.

Under Indiana law, the state board can take control over a school if the school remains on academic probation for six straight years.

“It is not in the state’s best interest for the state to takeover schools. Schools are best run by local corporations,” Bennett told WBEZ following the board’s day-long hearing in Indianapolis. “But we cannot allow chronic failure for the sake of local control. “

Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy in Gary was the only Northwest Indiana school to be on the state takeover list, although several others were at risk of joining the group.  Bennett said Roosevelt showed the worst performance of any school in Indiana.

“If you looked at the five schools that have been assigned turn-around school operators, Gary Roosevelt is probably the most dire and the most stark of those schools. The performance of students is really very sad,“ Bennett said.

The state assigned Edison Learning Inc., of New York City to run Roosevelt beginning next year. Edison operates schools primarily on the East Coast and two on Chicago’s South Side.

During the current schoolyear, Edison Learning officials will use this school year to develop a plan for next year.  Bennett said Edison Learning will also be held accountable for improving test scores and graduation rates at Roosevelt.

“Edison Learning has some mechanisms they’re going to use to improve student performance. And in doing so we intend to hold them accountable with very clear performance metrics improve student performance once they begin the operation of the school,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he understands that Roosevelt is in a troubled industrial city, with high unemployment, high crime and an overall depressed environment.

“Demography does not dictate destiny,” Bennett said. “We can’t just look at those kids and say ‘You are doomed to failure and we should have low expectations for you.’”

The administrative staff at Roosevelt is likely to be replaced, including its teachers’ union.

“We start with a blank slate. The labor contract does not follow the school. This school gets to start with all new structures in place to that Edison does not have to operate with all the norms that become accepted in time in the Gary Community School Corporation,” Bennett said. “They are going to operate and build academic programs first and foremost around the children of Gary Roosevelt.”

Gary schools superintendent Myrtle Campbell says the district will work with Edison Learning to ensure a smooth transition.  But Indianapolis schools are threatening to sue the state Board of Education if it moves to take control of four of its schools.

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