GARY | One of the biggest challenges administrators at Roosevelt College and Career Academy face is attendance; too many students simply don't come to school.
This is a pivotal year for Gary Roosevelt. It is under the operation of a private management company, Tennesse-based EdisonLearning, appointed by the state to improve years of academic failure. The first year, EdisonLearning observed the school and put together a plan; last fall, the company put that plan into action.
Vanessa Ronketto, an EdisonLearning official who serves as Roosevelt school superintendent, said students must be in school to learn, and she acknowledges attendance is not where it should be.
"We have put in place attendance and behavior committees that analyze the data on a monthly basis," she said, adding that includes looking at the root cause of the problem. Ronketto said administrators also contact parents when students have missed more than one hour each day.
A formal truancy process to assist with chronic absences also was developed, but no parents have been turned over to authorities yet, school officials said.
In February, of the 148 seniors about 61 percent showed up for class. That's compared to August when 62 percent of the seniors attended class. More than 84 percent of seniors attended class in September, and since that time the number steadily declined.
The number of students attending class in eighth-, ninth- tenth- and eleventh-grade ranged from 61 to 77 percent in February.
Ronketto said the data shows seventh-graders have the best attendance at 81 percent in February; that's just slightly down from August when attendance for seventh-graders was at 82 percent.
Ronketto said administrators also continue with monthly assessments. Screenings conducted in December show some improvement for students at almost all grade levels. For example, in August, 52 percent of the seventh-graders who took the Scholastic Reading Inventory did not pass it, compared with only 29 percent who didn't pass it in December.
The number of eighth-graders who hadn't mastered the skills on the SRI test in December was 33 percent, compared with 43 percent in August.
Because so many students are significantly behind, Ronketto said, they had to take a universal approach to address the needs, building in additional blocks for reading and math.
In addition, a high percentage of seniors were not on track for graduation, Ronketto said. EdisonLearning officials did not immediately have an estimate on the number of students now on track to graduate. However, they said credit recovery during the day and after school is open to students to earn the necessary credits.
Ronketto said improving student behavior remains a major goal. A couple of weeks ago, Gary police arrested two students in separate incidents.
Gary police spokeswoman Gabrielle King said at 9:15 a.m. on Feb. 19, a pregnant 16-year-old girl said she needed to leave school but needed to stop by her sister's classroom to get the house key. However, the girl created a ruckus when she was in the classroom. While she was being escorted from the class, she slapped Sgt. Tim Tatum. The girl was charged with battery on law enforcement and disorderly conduct.
About four hours later, King said a 14-year-old boy was arrested following a "pen" fight. He was throwing a pen and one of the pens hit the teacher who decided to prosecute. The boy was arrested and charged with battery, King said.
Still, interim Roosevelt Principal Donna Henry said administrators are seeing a decrease in the number of altercations. "Isolated incidents have been handled, and the appropriate disciplinary action has been taken for students who are involved in incidents. If a student is suspended, they come back after the suspension is over and meet with the dean," Henry said.
Henry took over a few days ago after former Principal Terrance Little resigned to join the Gary Community School Corp. Little had initially been hired by EdisonLearning to turn the troubled school around. He left four months before the school year was over.
Henry said there were questions from students but the mission and vision set at the beginning of the school was a shared vision, one that all academy directors, administrative team and teachers know and understand.
"While it is definitely a loss that Mr. Little is no longer with us, we have to proceed with the mission and vision for our students, and we keep that at the forefront of anything that we do," she said.
In addition to losing its principal last month, EdisonLearning closed Gary Roosevelt four consecutive days in January due to lack of heat. Although EdisonLearning operates the school, the Gary Community School Corp. is the landlord and is responsible for maintaining the building.
"Any days out of school, any minutes we lose in having the students in front of us working on math, reading and other skills, make it difficult," Henry said. "But the students bounced back. We told our students the break is over and it's back to business as normal. We found that the students retained the information. It wasn't a matter of memory, it's about learning. That was a good way for us to see that learning is occurring."