School leaders mull what happens after takeover

2014-02-16T19:45:00Z 2014-02-17T11:52:10Z School leaders mull what happens after takeoverCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

GARY | The verdict is still out on whether a private management company is operating Gary Roosevelt any better than the Gary Community School Corp. did.

Gary Roosevelt earned an F in 2013 under private manager EdisonLearning Inc. That's the same grade it earned when operated by the Gary school district.

EdisonLearning is more than half way through a five-year contract with the Indiana Department of Education to operate the school, and it's not clear what happens after the contract is over. The contract concludes June 30, 2016.

Indiana Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said there is nothing in the legislation that determines what happens at the end of the contract.

"Part of it will depend on the school results, where the school stands at the end of the contract period," he said.

"I think it will be up to the State Board of Education. There is nothing in the law that says a certain thing happens."

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said Senate Bill 205, authored by Sen. James Banks, R-Columbia City, now includes an amendment that addresses the turnaround academies such as Gary Roosevelt.

Senate Bill 205 is set for a House committee vote Tuesday.

If approved, the law will require the state board to determine, during a turnaround academy's fifth year of operation, whether the turnaround academy will be returned to the school corporation, become a charter school or be subject to further intervention.

Rogers said these issues should have been ironed out prior to the signing of the contract between the state and contractors.

"I always felt it was premature to go into the turnaround academy project without all of the knowledge of what would happen at the end of the five years," she said.

"When Gary met with IDOE at that time, these questions were asked. Before the Legislature could make these decisions, a contract was signed. When Sen. Banks came forward, I joined him in this bill, and we tried to give some direction on what will happen after the fifth year."

What's next as state takes over schools

Gary Roosevelt was one of five schools in Indiana taken over by the state after six consecutive years of failure. Former Republican Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett made headlines when he enforced the state's accountability law — Public Law 221 — which called for state takeover of failing schools.

Gary Roosevelt, along with four schools in Indianapolis, were taken over by the state. Two others schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools were assigned lead partners, a lesser form of state intervention.

New Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who beat out Bennett, has different ideas about how to handle failing schools. Ritz established a Division of Outreach, which focuses on providing support to failing schools rather than taking them over.

Michael Serpe, EdisonLearning spokesman, said there are many things that can happen between now and when the contract ends in 2016.

"We've had many different types of situations," he said. "We had 20 schools in Philadelphia. After eight years, the schools reverted back to the school district. None of the situations we've had have been like Gary. In some cases, we went into the school and provided academic support, the staff remained the same and the school district operated the school."

Serpe said in some cases, the company provided "turnaround advisory services" where they might retrain the principal and teachers, adjust the curriculum and turn around the academic learning environment of the school, without being allowed any influence over the staff.

"The situation at Roosevelt is different because it operates more like a charter school," Serpe said. "There is still two years on the contract. That's a long time in the kind of work we do. I can't speculate. I don't have the faintest idea what's going to happen."

Serpe also said the goal is to make sure the school is "fully sustainable and functional."

Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the district is looking ahead and developing a plan for Gary Roosevelt and the entire district.

"It's too preliminary to comment on Roosevelt," she said.

"The legislation does not spell out what happens. We'll be working with IDOE and will take direction from the state. I'm certain there will be support given to Gary schools. We are in the midst of doing some things differently and working with the state to decide how the school corporation will look. There are a number of things we need to solve; some of these issues have been paramount for years."

Pruitt said the district is dealing with many challenges, including a lack of resources, old buildings, poverty and a perception that students are failing.

"It's not just one thing. It's not just an attack on Gary, it's an attack on urban schools and minority children. It's almost a war on public education," she said.

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