GARY | While Roosevelt College and Career Academy is closed again today due to heating issues, some believe the junior academy is turning itself around.
Roosevelt College and Career Academy eighth-grader D'Andre Beard said the school was pretty chaotic last year, with plenty of fights and a high rate of suspensions and expulsions.
Beard, 13, said he was involved in some altercations. He said he had a bad attitude and wasn't working hard in his classes, but turned over a new leaf this school year.
Beard said his grades have improved. He's not fighting and he is looking forward to graduating and pursuing a career in construction.
"All of the teachers are different from those who were here last year," he said. "I used to blurt out things in class but I've learned how to handle myself more appropriately. I made the decision to stay out of trouble."
Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy Assistant Principal Tyneasha Banks, who oversees the junior academy consisting of seventh- and eighth-grade students, said she's seen a great change in Beard -- and many other students.
Banks and Roosevelt Principal Terrance Little said it's critical teachers develop a relationship with students, giving them someone to turn to when they need to talk to or have someone listen to their issues.
The Indiana Department of Education took over operating Roosevelt from the Gary Community School Corp. after six consecutive years of academic failure. The state appointed Tennessee-based EdisonLearning to operate the historic school and make it academically successful.
Eighth-grade social studies teacher Caitlin Miller said the junior academy students are in a separate wing from high school students. Miller said junior academy teachers also are responsible for walking students to each of their classes.
"The expectations for teachers in a turnaround school are much greater than in any other school," Miller said. "I wanted to work here. It's a turnaround, and it's a challenge to make it work. As a social studies teacher, part of my job is to help the English teacher get the levels higher, and I work on skills."
EdisonLearning emphasizes reading, using Read 180 and System 44 programs. The school uses Prentice Hall Literature and Carnegie Math. It requires seventh-graders to take a double dose of English and eighth-graders a double dose of math. Students are assessed monthly. This will be the first year Roosevelt students take the state-mandated ISTEP-Plus and End-of-Course Assessments, under the operation of EdisonLearning.
School officials say they have an unusually high number of eighth-graders in special education. Of 74 eighth-grade students, 40 percent of them are in the special education program. Fewer than 10 percent of the 68 seventh-graders are in special education.
Tonia Brewer, Roosevelt's director of special education, believes the school is seeing high numbers of special education students, particularly at the middle school level, for two reasons.
"Gary parents wanted something different and decided to give EdisonLearning's Roosevelt a try to see what we could do differently, and news of our success spread by word of mouth," she said.
Nicole Norvell, special education director for the Indiana Department of Education, said the state has made two visits to Roosevelt to review the special education department and was impressed.
Norvell said students with disabilities were included in the general education program, and there was also small group and one-to-one instruction.
"The building was orderly, and that's especially important for students with disabilities," she said.
Attendance remains an issue
Little said administrators are still struggling with student attendance. In December, 86 percent of the seventh-grade showed up for class; 80 percent of eighth-graders; 73 percent of freshmen; 68 percent of sophomores; 65 percent of juniors; and 73 percent of seniors.
Little said some of the 151 seniors are 19 and 20 years old, and some are two or three years behind grade level.
Little said the school has reinstituted an in-house suspension program and created an after-school detention program. At one point, Little said there was a theft problem in the building with students stealing school-based laptops.
He said administrators had to emphasize students were "stealing from themselves," before eliminating the problem a couple of months ago.
No classes today
A continuing lack of heat in more than half the rooms at Roosevelt College and Career Academy is keeping the facility closed again today.
That is the fourth school day missed since Tuesday, when the temperatures inside the Gary high school were in the 40s.
A Marion Superior Court judge in Indianapolis reportedly issued an order Friday, requiring the Gary Community School Corp. to maintain a temperature of 68 degrees in all areas of the building and remove standing water throughout the school from the burst pipes.
"Right now we don't have enough classrooms at 68 degrees to have school tomorrow," Little said Sunday night. "If most of the rooms warm up and we could move kids around, that would be fine, but we did a room count and right now we aren't even half way there."
Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said Sunday night her school corporation made repairs Wednesday. She puzzled over the cause of the problem.
"That is one of our newest boilers," she said.
Marion Williams, a Gary School Board member, said, "I was principal there for five years and we never had problems with the heating system. They put a brand new boiler, heating and cooling system in there in 2005."
Little said he hopes to reopen the school later this week.