More than 700 students showed up for the first day of classes at Roosevelt College and Career Academy in Gary, under the operation of Tennessee-based EdisonLearning.
EdisonLearning is the management company hired by the Indiana Department of Education to improve the academic level, test scores and graduation rate.
There was plenty of hoopla Wednesday as the school opened for Day One, inviting the community to tour the school building, visit classrooms and mingle with members of the Indiana Department of Education and local politicians.
Old lockers have been pulled out and new ones will be installed next week. All students are carrying clear bookbags. The floors have been scrubbed spotless and there are new ceiling tiles and grids. Bathrooms have been repaired and high-efficiency lighting has been installed. There is $400,000 in new curriculum, technology, furnishings and cafeteria equipment.
Building D will house seventh and eighth grades, which will be known as the Junior Academy. The ninth and 10th grades are now the the Senior Academy, and 11th and 12th grades will comprise the Collegiate Academy.
During the past school year when EdisonLearning officials were in the planning phase, Todd McIntire, EdisonLearning vice president, said they had little access to students, but "today we have the privilege of beginning to teach."
Jeff Wahl, president and CEO of EdisonLearning, called Roosevelt a "historic building" and Edison hopes to build on its legacy.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican running for re-election in November, shared the podium with Gary Democratic Sen. Earline Rogers, whom he called "the face, heart and soul of the Gary community." Bennett also said he and Rogers share a love of children and seeing them excel.
"Every child regardless of race, the amount of money in their pocket and ZIP code, deserves a good education," Bennett said. "The children in Gary deserve the best, just like the children in Fishers or Carmel."
Bennett told EdisonLearning officials "the state and the nation are watching you."
Rogers said she once asked EdisonLearning officials if they do well at Roosevelt to share that with other local schools, and they said yes.
"We don't share best practices enough," Rogers said. "Hopefully, they will come up with a formula that works."
That's the same thing that several parents said as they continued to enroll their students in the school on the first day.
Brenda Daniel, of Gary, who was enrolling a seventh-grader and ninth-grader, said she wants her sons to do well in school.
"I want to see if they can do better than Gary was doing," she said. "I want my kids to get the same thing that white kids get in other areas. I don't want my kids just passed from grade to grade. I want them to learn something. Right now, Edison is singing a good song. Let's see if they can do what they say they can do."
Annie May, president of the National Roosevelt Alumni Association, said the school was at "rock bottom." May, who has been working to get the Roosevelt building added to the list of historical buildings, said she is glad the school remained open because she is a "diehard Panther."
At Ready Elementary School in Griffith, children were at the door well before the 8:30 a.m. start time.
Patty Kelley, who has taught kindergarten for 23 years in the school system, took the hands of several youngsters and escorted them to the primary wing.
Kindergarten teacher Susan Jordan, who has been teaching six years, said she loves teaching and is happy Griffith is able to offer full-day kindergarten.
"It makes such a difference," she said. Griffith has 62 kindergartners in three classes.
Aspire Charter Academy in Gary opened the school year Wednesday with 709 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school is in its fifth year of operation and has 110 students on a waiting list.