HAMMOND — A new charter school focused on high school dropouts will open in Hammond this fall.

The school, called the Excel Center, has been established by Goodwill Leads Inc., which is associated with Goodwill Industries. The charter school, which has 11 locations across the state including South Bend, was approved by the Indiana Charter School Board.

The organization also plans to open a location in East Chicago in fall 2018. There also are other Excel Centers in states across the country.

Goodwill Industries has 162 regional districts across the country. The Goodwill Industries of Michiana is based in South Bend and covers 16 counties in northern and Northwest Indiana, and includes some communities in Illinois' Chicago south suburbs.

Randy Beachy, executive director of the Excel Center in South Bend, said each of the Goodwill Industry districts is independent, though all share the same mission.

"What that mission looks like in each of our territories will vary," he said. "Most people know Goodwill Industries for the stores and for training. Before I came to Goodwill, I thought they trained people for the stores, then hired them, but that's just the tip of the iceberg."

Beachy said Goodwill Industries has a proven success record for training, and 2015 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau point to the need for people to earn a high school diploma.

The statistics show that 51,753 adults in Lake County do not have a high school diploma; that's followed by 12,386 in LaPorte County and 11,406 in Porter County.

The Excel Center serves students 18 and older with year-round accelerated classes. Graduating students will receive an Indiana Core 40 Diploma and college credits or industry certification.

Cindy Cavanaugh, who will be the Hammond school director, said earning a diploma can be life changing for students. Cavanaugh, who was born and raised in Highland and is a former teacher in the School City of Hammond, joined the Excel Center a couple of months ago.

Since the first Excel Center opened in Indiana in 2010, 2,392 students in the Hoosier state have graduated. Students have earned 3,589 industry-recognized certifications and 5,238 dual college credits.

Beachy said some students have come to the center with zero credits, because they dropped out their freshman year of high school and didn't earn any.

"Or they come to us and say, it's been so long since I've been out of high school that I just want to start over," he said.

"If they can take three classes each term and don't need much remediation, they can finish in as short as 18 months or two years. We had a student at South Bend who, in three terms, earned 22 credits. She knocked it out of the park."

The school day for students is flexible, and classes will be offered roughly from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at night.

Cavanaugh said students attend classes Mondays through Thursdays; Fridays are reserved for tutoring or working with a life coach, something that Cavanaugh said is key to the program's success.

"The life coaches go above and beyond and wrap around our students in all ways. We will have four to start and as we see the need, we'll add more," she said.

She said the Hammond school initially will hire 20 people, and they hope to start with about 250 students. In addition, the school is going to offer a day care for students with small children. The day care, called the Kids Excel Center, will offer a Head Start curriculum for the children.

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Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.