Calumet College of St. Joseph will become the new sponsor of The Charter School of the Dunes in Gary effective July 1, 2013.
In January, Ball State University's Office of Charter Schools pulled its sponsorship of the 10-year-old Gary charter school effective June 30, blaming the school's long-running academic woes. It also did not renew its charter with six other schools, including LEAD College Preparatory Charter School, also in Gary.
“This partnership will revolutionize the way schools partner with their authorizer,” said Danielle Sleight, Charter School of the Dunes board president.
Charter School of the Dunes approached Calumet College to become its sponsor, said Daniel Lowery, president of the Hammond school.
Under a change in state law, both private and public accredited four-year institutions can sponsor a charter school, he said. However, Lowery said Charter School of the Dunes is a specific case, and the college is not seeking to sponsor other schools.
“It's not something we are looking to do with a lot of institutions,” Lowery said. “We were approached by Charter School of the Dunes, and it's a particular case and it's a good mission fit. We're impressed with what they've accomplished to this point and think they have terrific potential.”
Lowery said the college will provide more hands-on assistance to the school than other charter school sponsors traditionally might, to help address low test scores. A number of his faculty members have worked at charter schools, including the liaison the college has appointed to work directly with Charter School of the Dunes.
“The challenge with an urban charter school is two-fold,” Lowery said. “They can do a great job with students they have from the beginning to the end ... the real challenge is with students who move from institution to institution to institution.”
Charter schools are public schools, allowing all parents — regardless of salary, race or zip code — to send children to the school of their choice. In addition to allowing more entities such as the newly established Indiana Charter School Board to sponsor charter schools throughout Indiana, lawmakers last year also increased the level of accountability for public charter schools consistent with national standards for quality charter authorizing.
Bob Marra, executive director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University, said in January when his office decided not to renew the school's charter, the new accountability framework looks at academics, finance and governance. Marra said his office provided each school an opportunity to discuss its performance in its renewal application.
"What we saw at the Dunes over the last 10 years is that the school only made adequate yearly progress in eight years of operation," Marra said in January. He also cited low student performance and a high turnover rate in leadership. Marra said it received an F grade from the Indiana Department of Education and had a ranking of 101 out of 114 Lake County schools.
Lowery said Charter School of the Dunes has shown success, however, with the students they educate for longer periods of time.
The January decision not to renew came just months before Charter School of the Dunes completes a new $13 million school building at the intersection of U.S. 20 and Old Hobart Road. School officials had said they would complete the building and then sell the school if they could not find a new authorizer.
A Calumet College press release said The Charter School of the Dunes' focus on environmental responsibility dovetails with Calumet College's new Restoration Ecology program. The sponsorship opens dual-credit opportunities for the charter school’s high school students and experiential learning opportunities for students of both the charter school and the college.
“We have a good match,” Lowery said. “Let me say it this way. They have some great strengths, and where they have some areas that they need to work on we have some great strengths.”