GARY | Charter School of the Dunes celebrated its 10th anniversary with the grand opening of its new building at the intersection of U.S. 20 and Old Hobart Road.
Hundreds of parents, children, business people and supporters crowded the school's gymnasium in the $13 million building. It is opening almost a year to the day that it held a groundbreaking ceremony.
Danielle Sleight, school board president and CEO, became emotional as she talked about watching the building transform over the last year into a school, and thanked everyone involved.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said this day belongs to the students.
"We have great expectations," Freeman-Wilson said. "This is an opportunity to learn in a new environment and achieve at a greater height. I like to see new buildings in my community. You have a new partnership with Calumet College. We are so grateful that they decided to partner with you. This is another example of a new day in Gary."
Calumet College of St. Joseph became the new sponsor of Charter School of the Dunes in Gary effective July 1. That followed the announcement by Ball State University's Office of Charter Schools that it would end its sponsorship of the charter school June 30, saying the school's consecutive years of academic woes was a problem.
At that time, Ball State officials cited low student performance and a high turnover rate in leadership. The school received an F grade from the Indiana Department of Education and had a ranking of 101 out of 114 Lake County schools.
That decision was announced just months before the new building was completed. Sleight said then the school would search for a new authorizing agency and complete its building.
Calumet College President Dan Lowery said he sees promise in the charter school.
"Yes, charter schools (which are also public schools) do use public dollars, but parents don't have time to wait for a school to turn itself around," Lowery told the crowd. "Charter schools present parents with an option and they give kids a chance. We're delighted with the changes we've seen in urban schools. We're impressed with the Charter School of the Dunes' mission, and we'll do everything we can to help. Congratulations on a stunning day."
Comparing Charter School of the Dunes relationship with Ball State University as a first marriage that didn't work out, Gary Sen. Earline Rogers, a Democrat, said she has nothing but high expectations from the charter and its new partner.
Charter School of the Dunes Principal Christine Pepa welcomed parents and youngsters into their "new home."
"This may not be a magic kingdom, but (it is) a place where dreams come true," she said. "There have been obstacles along the way. This dream would not have been possible without every one of you."
Eight-year-old Lyric Williams' eyes widened and she smiled broadly as she and her mother Marquita Williams began to walk around the building. "It's awesome. It's big and wonderful," said the youngster who has attended the charter school since kindergarten.