More school choice for Northwest Indiana parents
BY CAROLE CARLSON firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3154 August 13, 2012 5:18PM
Trinity Academy executive administrator George Howard, Jr., (third from right) helps Kennesha Trambles, 15, (from left) Tevin Donelson, 17, and Isaiah Pearson, 15, open a ladder as they help paint at Trinity Academy in Gary, Ind. Thursday August 9, 2012. Trinity is a new faith-based school located inside Rhema Inspirational Church where Howard is youth pastor. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
9803 Colorado St., Crown Point
Gary Middle College
556 Washington St., Gary
Mosaic Middle School
665 S. Lake St., Gary
New Vistas Charter School
5391 Central Ave., Portage
416 E. Ridge Road, Gary
College and Career
730 W. 25th Ave., Gary
Dunbar-Pulaski Academic and Career Academy
920 E. 19th Ave., Gary
Updated: September 15, 2012 6:03AM
As schools open across Northwest Indiana, parents have more school options for their children than ever before, all with state tax dollars.
The state’s new expansive voucher program is entering its second year, and more than 8,000 parents are receiving state vouchers to send their children to private, typically religious-based schools.
In addition to voucher-based private schools, there’s a couple new Northwest Indiana charter schools, aimed at struggling students, that will open their doors for the first time.
And in Gary, a private for-profit company will be running one of the district’s most revered high schools as part of a state takeover after years of poor student academic performance.
The need for choice
“Absolutely, there are more choices than families have ever have had and from our perspective we think it’s a good thing,” said Lindsey Brown, executive director of School Choice Indiana, a not-for-profit group.
“We just believe the parent should be the one who decides where a child should be educated, regardless of income level, parents know what’s best. I think it’s positive that they make the decision, instead of a ZIP code.”
There’s been push back to the voucher program, however. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Indiana’s voucher law has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Indiana’s voucher program was the largest first-year program in the nation with more than 4,000 students receiving state aid totaling $16.2 million.
“It’s difficult for some people to change their mindsets,” said Brown about voucher opponents. “We’re used to this old way of thought that tax dollar money belongs to school districts and buildings. I think they should talk about tax dollar money just following kids.”
Avicenna Academy in Crown Point joined the voucher program this year. It’s next door to the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center.
Avicenna Principal Amanda Arceo said students will spent about 90 minutes studying the Islamic faith, including learning Arabic and studying the Quran.
“I’d love to see more students who aren’t Muslim so we could get more diversity,” said Arceo whose preschool to eighth-grade school has about 60 children enrolled. Students go to the mosque every day for prayers and Friday is a holy day, hence a longer service.
In Gary, teens who attend the Rhema Inspirational Church at 416 E. Ridge Road have been helping administrator George M. Howard Jr. get the Trinity Academy, based at the church, ready for the first day of school on Aug. 20.
“We initially got accredited because we wanted to take the same assessments as other kids. We believe we produce some of the best kids in Northwest Indiana,” said Howard. “We wanted to prove it.”
Howard said about 15 vouchers have been awarded, so far, and enrollment is about 115.
Students will attend chapel every day and study the Bible. Volunteers helped paint a mural of Noah’s Ark outside one of the classrooms last week.
Howard said the school tried to purchase Franklin Elementary from the Gary Community School Corp., but his phone calls were never returned.
Mosaic Middle School, at 665 Lake St., in Gary, will serve grades 6-8. It’s partnering with Expeditionary Learning, an East Coast-based company that’s designing the curriculum.
Its director, Andrea Coffer, is a Gary native who organized the school in response to the Gary Community School Corp. consolidating its middle schools into its high schools a few years ago.
“I did a needs analysis, and parents wanted their kids educated with their peers,” said Coffer. The school is also part of the voucher program. “Schools in Gary have some challenges right now, it’s not the best fit for some kids in Gary,” said Coffer, who said enrollment is about 110 students.
Meanwhile, the Gary school district announced last spring it planned to reopen a shuttered middle school, Dunbar-Pulaski, in response to complaints from parents.
In Portage, New Vistas High School, a charter school aimed at students who have trouble succeeding in a traditional school setting will open at the Portage Adult Education Center, 5391 Central Ave.
“It’s for students who just need less drama or kids who were kicked out, kids who need to work at a slower pace or at an accelerated pace,” said Rebecca Reiner, president of the not-for-profit Neighbors Educational Opportunities Inc. board of directors. It received the charter from Ball State University.
She expects an enrollment of about 100, with registration Aug. 28-30. The first day of school is Sept. 4.
Gary Middle College, at 556 Washington St., is also aimed at dropouts who struggled in traditional school settings. These students, however, will go to school at night.
Gary Middle College students have the opportunity to attend Ivy Tech State College and earn up to 60 credits toward a college degree.
Enrollment will be capped at 100 students in the first year and increases in the coming years.
The Indiana Department of Education removed the Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy from the district last year after years of academic failure.
On Wednesday, the school will reopen with a new name — the Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy — and a new operator, New York-based EdisonLearning Inc.
Roosevelt is one of five public schools taken over by the state by virtue of a state accountability law.
EdisonLearning is sprucing up the school and skirmishing with the district over maintenance and student records. EdisonLearning filed a lawsuit seeking the records and a judge has ordered both sides to work together.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett will attend the ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.