Gary school leader wants to open a charter school

2012-08-26T00:00:00Z Gary school leader wants to open a charter schoolBy Carmen McCollum, (219) 662-5337

GARY | The new superintendent of the Gary Community School Corp. is considering authorizing a charter school.

Cheryl Pruitt said the law allows school systems to authorize a charter similar to how Ball State University has authorized the eight public charter schools in Gary. She said administrators are collaborating with Ball State on the policies, procedures and processes to implement a charter.

Last year, legislation created the Indiana Charter School Board, which also authorizes charter schools across the state.

Pruitt has said the district could use one of its closed school buildings. She said the school board is in agreement with the proposal and will create an ad hoc committee focusing on charter schools. She said another committee will be created to work directly with Ball State.

Ball State spokeswoman Joan Todd said officials had an informal meeting with Gary's superintendent to go over the process of chartering a school in Indiana.

Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said all school corporations have the authority to sponsor charters, though only Evansville Vanderburgh Community Schools has ever done so.

The school corporation would have to absorb the authorizing costs during start-up, and the new charter would be funded like any other charter school-- meaning it would be funded directly as a separate school corporation, Sample said. Once the school is running, the school corporation would collect the 3 percent fee from basic tuition support received by the school --as charters do.

The Evansville Vanderburgh Community Schools authorized Joshua Academy, a K-through-sixth-grade school, and Signature School, a ninth-through-12th-grade building. Signature was the first charter school in the state and is going into its 11th year.

Jean Hitchcock, principal/executive director at Signature, said there are 340 students at Signature and it operates separate from the school system.

"Our philosophy is that every student can learn if allowed the right environment and the opportunity to work hard. The bar is set high here and we keep it high. We believe that every student is better because of it," she said.

In addition to authorizing a charter school, Pruitt is looking at ideas to give Gary students choices. She said those include a laboratory school where Gary could partner with Indiana University Northwest and a trade school where it could partner with a trades union. Pruitt said students could work on housing and earn an internship through one of the trades. She said she also has had a conversation with representatives from NIPSCO and other businesses to talk about the skills students need to leave high school and get jobs.

"We want to make sure our students have a rich education," she said. "We want to create viable choices and options for students to be successful. The fact that we have had charter schools has been made out to be a negative competition between the Gary Community School Corp. and the charters. We want to remove the negative."

Pruitt said Gary schools were a leader, offering the career-center and early-childhood education years before surrounding school districts, and she wants to return the district to its glory days.

IUN Chancellor William Lowe said the university's faculty colleagues in its Urban Teacher Education Program are in preliminary conversations with the superintendent about ways the Gary campus can expand mutually beneficial school partnerships with Gary Community Schools.

"We can, for example, continue to innovate on the Professional Development School model, which brings higher education resources, including faculty members and students, from both the IU Northwest campus and across Indiana University directly into the schools," Lowe said.

He said a PDS is a unique learning community that supports both children’s learning and that of future and serving teachers, through a distinctive university/school collaboration that shares expertise across traditional institutional lines.

"This model prepares teachers who are well-equipped to support learning and achievement for a diverse student population," Lowe said.

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