GARY | Lighthouse Academies has restructured its three Northwest Indiana charter schools. Officials will open the facilities this fall in the midst of high expectations.
Lighthouse Academies previously operated the East Chicago Lighthouse Charter, Gary Lighthouse Charter and West Gary Lighthouse Charter schools.
West Gary Lighthouse Charter, which was up for charter renewal, withdrew its application earlier this year when it learned it might not be renewed. The school closed in June.
School leaders presented a proposal to the Ball State University Office of Charter Schools, which authorizes the charters, asking to restructure the high school programs of the three schools into one large high school.
The Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy will open at 725 Clark Road in Gary, the former home of West Gary Lighthouse Charter. It will house about 700 students in grades eight through 12 from all of the Lighthouse Academy locations.
This fall, Lighthouse Academies will operate academies at 3201 Pierce St., Gary, housing 200 students in kindergarten through second grade; at 1775 W. 41st Ave., Gary, housing students in grades three through seven; and 3916 Pulaski St., East Chicago, housing students in kindergarten through seventh-grade.
Parent Janet Clark said she hopes class size sat the high school remain small and continue to maintain good contact with parents.
Clark's daughter, Janetra Briscoe, 17, will be a junior in the fall. Her older daughter Michelle Briscoe, 18, graduated from Gary Lighthouse Charter School in June. She said the two girls have been at a Lighthouse Academy Charter school since their elementary school years.
"My other children went to public school, but I wanted to try something different," Clark said. "Janetra had health problems back and forth. She was behind. The Gary schools didn't work with her the way I wanted them to. She's doing fine now."
While Jaylan Robinson, of East Chicago, didn't agree with the consolidation initially, he and his mother Lisa Robinson decided to give the new, combined school a try. Robinson, who will be a sophomore in the fall, was at the East Chicago Lighthouse Charter School last fall, which was housed at the former St. Catherine of Siena School in Hammond.
"The size of the high school will be much bigger," Lisa Robinson said. "I'm still concerned about combining students from Gary and East Chicago together in one building. I'm waiting to see how the transition works."
Lighthouse College Prep Academy Principal Chrissy Hart, who was previously at the Gary Lighthouse Charter on Pierce Street, will oversee the 700 high school students housed in the building on Clark Road. She hopes to duplicate the success she had with her first graduating class in June.
All 50 seniors graduated, Hart said. She said 80 percent of the graduates will attend a four-year university in the fall. Fifteen percent chose Ivy Tech Community College, and 5 percent chose the military.
Parent Theresa Harris, of Gary, said her oldest son also graduated from Gary Lighthouse Charter School, and she called Lighthouse Academy an "excellent" school.
Harris' son, Bradley, is going to George Williams College in Williams Bay, Wis., majoring in English and writing. Harris said Bradley began his school career at Thea Bowman, a charter school in Gary, then moved to Banneker, a successful Gary public school. Harris said her son was at Banneker from first through sixth grades. She said she would have kept him there, but the school ended at sixth grade then.
Mike Ronan, president/CEO and founder of Lighthouse Academies, said charter school leaders had talked for many years about the possibility of combining the schools to create a central high school location for all students.
"At that time, the director of Ball State's Office of Charter Schools told us he didn't think it could be done," Ronan said. "So we opened the college preparatory academy at West Gary and at East Chicago. We opened a third college preparatory academy at Gary Lighthouse on Pierce Street four years ago."
With the closing of West Gary Lighthouse Charter, Ronan said the charter schools went back to Ball State officials and asked about the possibility of opening one college preparatory academy where they could offer a challenging curriculum and advanced classes. Ball State officials approved the application.
Community rivalry debated
During several meetings about the possibility of one high school location, some parents complained that students from Gary and East Chicago might have problems in a blended environment. Other parents complained they received no previous notice that Lighthouse officials were considering one high school.
Harris said her daughter, Tanisha Harris, will be a junior at Lighthouse, and her youngest son will be a freshman at Thea Bowman.
"I'm not concerned about kids from different schools and different neighborhoods going to the same school," she said. "No schools are neighborhood schools anymore. That's gone in Gary. Kids are bussed everywhere."
Ronan said he remembers visiting the region in 2004 and talking to a group of ministers about the disharmony between Gary and East Chicago.
"I heard from some community members that it had existed for decades, and it was not a new thing," Ronan said. "We have students from both those communities, and we haven't seen any disharmony from them."