Indiana's takeover of the first batch of troubled schools is proving to be a learning experience. The key is to apply the newfound knowledge so the next time goes smoother.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has said before that Gary and Indianapolis school officials weren't being cooperative with the school turnaround specialists. That hasn't changed.
The Indiana Department of Education has warned Gary Community School Corp.'s interim superintendent that the school district violated the law via robocalls that tell parents who live in Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy's attendance area that their children would automatically be enrolled at Lew Wallace STEM or West Side Leadership Academy if parents didn't make a selection before the June 20 deadline.
That's contrary to the state law that says students have a right to attend the school corporation that serves the attendance area in which the parents live. In Roosevelt's case, that school corporation is New York-based EdisonLearning.
That doesn't bar EdisonLearning from reaching outside the Roosevelt territory to recruit students, nor does it prohibit Gary school officials from inviting students in the Roosevelt area to attend a traditional public school like West Side or Lew Wallace. Automatically signing them up, however, is forbidden.
By law, Gary school officials are required to cooperate with EdisonLearning. It is plain that they have not done so. Gary officials have thrown roadblocks in front of EdisonLearning's transition efforts repeatedly.
The situations in Gary, with Roosevelt, and in Indianapolis, where four schools are being taken over, offer plenty of evidence of recalcitrance by school officials unwilling to concede defeat. Remember, this is about helping the students, not about who controls them. If the schools hadn't failed for several years in a row, there would be no reason to hire a turnaround operator.
The letter from the state agency warns the agency could withhold additional state funds unless Gary officials notify all Roosevelt students that none of them will be involuntarily reassigned.
This year has been a learning curve for everyone involved in this first batch of turnaround operations.
The Indiana General Assembly and Indiana Department of Education need to spell out in more detail the specifics of how school turnaround operators and troubled school districts are to behave when a school is to be taken over by the state.
These state takeovers won't be the last. Make future ones go more smoothly.