GARY | Roosevelt administrators believe if they "sweat the small stuff," they will have fewer major issues to deal with.
Gary's Roosevelt College and Career Academy was one of seven schools across the state taken over by the Indiana Department of Education after being on academic program for six consecutive years. The state tapped Tennessee-based EdisonLearning as the management company to turn the school around. The company spent last year assessing the academics, staff, facility and technology. It signed a contract to operate the school for the next four years, and began this school year.
Some parents have complained that under EdisonLearning, Roosevelt administrators suspend students for the slightest infraction. But Principal Terrance Little said that is the school's goal -- to "sweat" students on the small stuff in hopes the bigger problems never occur.
Little said that includes reminding students constantly to pull up their pants, tuck in their shorts, be in uniform, don't curse one another or adults, treat everyone with respect and do not fight.
"You can't go to university and curse out your professor," he said. "You can't go to work and curse out your boss. We have to tame that behavior now and teach students a better way."
Little said teachers and administrators are working to create a safe culture and environment, reviewing the school's eight core values every morning. Those values are respect, responsibility, wisdom, compassion, justice, hope, courage and integrity.
In the first two weeks of school, teachers and administrators focused on roles, rules, routines and procedures over and over again, Little said.
"We wanted everyone to get a total picture of how things were going to be done at Roosevelt. That process also forced our teachers to get to know our students and began developing a relationship with them," he said.
"Right now, parents are alarmed and shocked that we are addressing students when they are out of uniform. We address students when they are not walking to the right of the hallway. We're addressing students when they don't have a pen or pencil in class. We're calling parents when their kids are late for class," Little said. "I have had parents literally telling me to stop calling them."
Little said teachers are required to call parents every two weeks to update them on their student's progress -- good or bad. Little said he knows it's a big shift for parents but for EdisonLearning to be successful, all stakeholders -- including parents -- must be involved.
"No one knows the child better than the parents," he said. "It's been hard work, but we're seeing some changes. Now, you can walk through the hallways and they are clear. You can go into a classroom and see students working and learning."
Once he talks to parents and explains the issue, support is there, said Ian Miller, alternative education coordinator.
"Even though they are teenagers and they make mistakes, they have to understand there are consequences for their actions," Miller said. "It's not socially acceptable to use profanity. If you fight, you're going to be suspended, just as in society, you could be arrested. Gang activity is not acceptable. If you are off-campus, you are expected to act in a certain way. We try to be consistent and let them know we are preparing them for college and life."
Stephanie Sample, Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman, said last week, a team traveled to Roosevelt to observe different special education and traditional classrooms in both the high school and middle school.
"Actually, we were very impressed by the safety and security in place at Roosevelt. On each floor they had several friendly and procedure-driven security guards. The classrooms and hallways observed were quiet, orderly and on-task," she said.
Little said people have a tendency to look at suspensions as punitive but it's not a punitive measure, it's a safety issue. He said sometimes students need a "cooling off period," so problems don't escalate.
There is a student code-of-conduct book that specifically talks about what happens with each infraction, and every parent and student signed off on the book, Little said.
In August, 120 students were suspended; in September, 164 students; in October, 161 students; and so far in November, 178 students have been suspended.
When students are suspended, it's considered an excused absence and they are given the work to do, Little said.
He also said about 90 percent of the more than 700 students understand and follow the rules. He said he and school officials continue to struggle with about 10 percent. However, Little said when those numbers drop, the school gets new transfer students and begins the process again. He said there have been so many transfer students he is considering a mini-orientation class to update them on the school rules and regulations. Little said the school has lost about 20 students, five of whom moved out of the area.
Meanwhile, school leaders are still in the process of developing an alternative school program for students.
"There is a lot of work and research involved," Little said. "We don't just want to throw a program together that's not going to be appropriate for our students. It has to meet their academic needs as well as their social and emotional needs."
Todd McIntire, EdisonLearning senior vice president and president of the Roosevelt school board, said they are finalizing plans for the alternative school now.
"We will be placing the Alternative Education Program in the Community Room to ensure the location has a separate entryway and is in a secure location from the remainder of the school. Computers are ordered and are on-site, ready to set up when the need for student placement arises," he said.