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Gary Area Career Center

Indiana State Board of Education members visit a Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy class Oct. 2 temporarily being taught in a garage space at the Gary Area Career Center.

INDIANAPOLIS — Uncertainty surrounding the future of Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy continues after state education officials heard recommendations Wednesday morning for how to address another expected move of the seventh through 12th grade academy.

Gary Roosevelt students have been attending class in the Gary Area Career Center since last February’s polar vortex rendered their 90-year-old school building on West 25th Avenue uninhabitable for class. Several of those classes have been taught out of makeshift classrooms in the career center’s garage bay area.

But, as the Gary Community School Corp. looks to expand career center offerings, Roosevelt students are being told they could once again experience another move before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Indiana State Board of Education officials split Wednesday morning in their opinions of school leadership, learning facilities and a timeline transitioning students to a new building.

Some suggested students should be removed from the career center as early as winter break, while others argued change in the garage bays, which have historically served students in career center classes, was not significant enough to warrant the immediate removal of children.

Placement of Roosevelt students

The SBOE first requested recommendations addressing options for the school’s future operations be brought to its November board meeting after board member Tony Walker raised concerns of student learning conditions in the converted Gary Area Career Center garage bays at the board’s October meeting at Indiana University Northwest.

In his recommendations presented Wednesday, SBOE Senior Director of School Performance & Transformation Ron Sanlin reported that 40% of heat supplied to the career center serviced the garage bays and that school leaders were working together to further supplement existing heat sources.

The school is managed through a local innovation agreement approved of by the state board in 2017 — six years after the state acted to intervene in the historically failing public Gary high school.

The Gary Community School Corp. is now responsible for facilities operations of Roosevelt school while EdisonLearning, originally contracted as a state turnaround partner for the school in 2011, was kept on in the 2017 agreement to oversee academics.

Thomas Jackson, CEO of EdisonLearning, said in the Wednesday meeting EdisonLearning has requested renovation of the existing garage bay area to create more suitable classroom space.

The Gary Community School Corp. is considering such changes, though any new structure in the space would need to be low-cost and relatively easy to remove after Roosevelt students leave, said Eric Parish, a member of the school corporation’s emergency management team.

Gary Community School Corp.’s West Side Leadership Academy and former Lincoln Elementary are being studied as possible alternative locations to house Roosevelt students next year.

The West Side building, housing the city’s only remaining traditional public high school, has the capacity to take in Roosevelt’s approximately 420 students and could house both schools under one roof, Parish said.

Lincoln, which served most recently as the district’s administrative center before closing at the start of this school year, would need a new roof, track and renovation from its current configuration as office space before it could take in the Roosevelt students, Parish said.

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The district is also considering seeking a second evaluation of the costs and work needed to bring the original Roosevelt school building back to operation. Initial damage estimates presented to the public in July topped more than $10 million — a difficult ask of the already cash-strapped Gary Community School Corp.

Walker, who sits on the board of directors for Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, raised the idea of moving Roosevelt students into Thea Bowman facilities. Thea Bowman is also capable of housing two schools under one roof, Walker said Wednesday, and would provide newer facilities than what the Gary Community School Corp. could offer.

The Gary Community School Corp. had not previously been approached with this option, Parish said, and it is unclear how introducing a third party in Thea Bowman’s charter operator would affect the existing agreement between EdisonLearning and the Gary Community School Corp.

EdisonLearning management

Uncertainty among Roosevelt operations has also called attention to whether the school should continue operating under its current leadership structure.

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In October, board member David Freitas asked what options the board could exercise in intervening in school operations. Those options include prompting action to close Roosevelt, returning it to Gary Community School Corp. purview or allowing EdisonLearning to stay the course.

More than 10 Gary community leaders traveled to Indianapolis for the Wednesday board meeting, speaking largely against EdisonLearning’s management and asking that the board act quickly to correct the situation.

“Our kids already have instability and uncertainty,” Gary parent Tracy Coleman said, addressing the board. "They should not have to have it on the part of their leaders. You have to act."

Walker, who was once an early advocate of the state’s intentional takeover of Roosevelt, echoed these concerns in strong terms.

“I truly believed when the state got involved, we would fix the situation,” Walker said. “Eight years down the road, I’m looking back and I know without a shadow of a doubt the state intervention of of Gary Roosevelt has failed. It’s failed.”

Jackson defended EdisonLearning’s record with the school, pointing to the school’s recent A accountability grade awarded by the state and attributing low test scores to the disruption caused by moving students mid-school year to a new location.

“The environment is one of the major tenets to ensure students have a quality education,” Jackson said. “We need to act with urgency, but we also need to act with what’s in the best interest of kids first.”

No direct actions were taken in the Wednesday board meeting. Additional recommendations concerning Roosevelt’s future are expected to be brought to the board in the coming weeks.

Read the State Board of Education report here:

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.