GARY | Tabitha and Eliseo Velez, who have six children enrolled at Charter School of the Dunes in Gary, are among parents and community members advocating the school remain open.
Ball State University's Office of Charter Schools notified that facility and six other charter schools across the state -- including a second one in Gary -- their charters would not be renewed. Those that lost their charters will close June 30.
The other Gary charter school that lost its charter is LEAD College Preparatory School.
A third charter school in Gary -- West Gary Lighthouse Charter -- withdrew its application for renewal and will close June 30. However, school officials hope to restructure, present a new application in March and open in the fall.
The charter schools set to close are among the first closed by Ball State since 2004 when it nixed Urban Brightest in Fort Wayne.
The Office of Charter Schools aligned its procedures with national standards for quality charter authorizing. The new accountability framework focuses on assessing charter schools in academics, finance and governance.
Many parents at the schools are frustrated. Eliseo Velez said he is "torn up" about Charter School of the Dunes closing.
"It's been a safe haven, not just for my kids, but other kids as well," he said. "It's been a place where they can go to get an education as opposed to the violence and bullying that goes on in the Gary Community School Corp."
Velez and his wife say they have gotten to know other parents who feel the same way.
"We're a family at Charter School of the Dunes," Tabitha Velez said. "It hurts me that they didn't get renewed. If they close, I don't know where I will put my kids."
Carey Spears of Hobart said she and her husband, both college professors, have similar beliefs. Their sixth-grader has been a student at Charter School of the Dunes for three years.
"Children are encouraged to fly at Charter School of the Dunes and they are encouraged to be smart and proud," she said. "I see a lot of growth in my son. I know the students are being well-educated there and I totally support the school."
Parents also say they have been looking forward to the completion of the new $13 million Charter School of the Dunes building at U.S. 20 and Old Hobart Road in July.
Intense review resulted in closures
Bob Marra, executive director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University, said the office takes seriously ensuring charter school quality.
"While we prefer to see these schools succeed, we have determined the current success or progress isn't sufficient for seven of our schools," he said. "While I understand it may cause some short-term difficulty for families, it is a decision made in the long-term best interests of their students," Marra said.
The decisions were based on a review of each school as part of a renewal process, Marra said. The process included an extensive review of academic, financial and organizational performance and compliance. It provided each school opportunity to discuss its performance in its renewal application.
The decisions were determined using a new accountability framework finalized by the Office of Charter Schools last summer.
The criteria include increasing the frequency of formal school review annually from every five years, and providing more performance-assessment information to school leaders and boards.
Terry Spradlin, associate director for the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University at Bloomington, said Ball State worked with national charter school organizations to tighten its process and demand quality in the facilities.
"The promise of public charter schools conceptually is that they are held to a high level of accountability and can be closed, unlike under-performing traditional public schools, which may remain open for a number of years before major school reform occurs," Spradlin said.
Ball State has not been, historically, vigorous in that, he said.
"However, recently the university's office of charter schools has reviewed its accountability and renewal process, and tightened and improved it."
Spradlin acknowledged when an authorizer like Ball State or the Indianapolis Mayor's office or other authorizers make a decision to close a school, it's going to be controversial. There are students who have been enrolled in school and feel "an allegiance" to the charter, he said.
"Parents feel some ownership, too, but they have to step back and ask objectively if this is a fair decision rendered by Ball State based on how the state's accountability system, the A-F grading system and Ball State's own accountability criteria have judged the quality of teaching and learning in the school," Spradlin said.