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Up for renewal, 8 local charter schools wait for Ball State decision

Sixth-grade teacher Alan Gaines works with students their self-contained classroom where they use math science social studies language arts skills

Sixth-grade teacher Alan Gaines works with students in their self-contained classroom where they use math, science, social studies and language arts skills to work on larger topics at the 21st Century Charter School of Gary in downtown Gary, Ind. Thursday May 10, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Making the grade

Charter schools up for renewal 2012 2011

Charter School of the Dunes, Gary F D

Gary Lighthouse F F

21st Century Charter School of Gary C A

East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy D F

West Gary Lighthouse F D

East Chicago Lighthouse D C

LEAD College Prep, Gary F D

Aspire Charter Academy, Gary C C

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Updated: January 6, 2013 8:46PM



Eight Northwest Indiana charter schools are up for renewal this spring — and tougher standards mean some of those schools could be closed.

Ball State University’s Office of Charter Schools will hand down its decisions by March 1 on 20 schools across the state. Local schools up for renewal include six in Gary and two in East Chicago: Gary’s Charter School of the Dunes, 21st Century Charter School, Aspire Charter Academy, Gary Lighthouse, West Gary Lighthouse, LEAD College Preparatory; and East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy and East Chicago Lighthouse.

Bob Marra, executive director of Ball State’s Office of Charter Schools, said the renewal process looks at academic performance, school governance and other issues.

“We ask the applicant about the reasons why (low academic performance) is occurring and what their strategies are to improve,” Marra said.

Marra said Ball State has increased the frequency of formal reviews of schools as part of its work with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to tighten its requirements for schools applying for charters and renewals.

NACSA advocates closing schools that are in bottom 15 percent on standardized test scores. In addition, a December report from Stanford University said Indiana has some of the best performing charter schools in the country, but Ball State-authorized charters have experienced slower growth in the past three years, compared to other charters and public schools.

Steps could be taken soon

Aspire and 21st Century received C grades in the state’s 2012 school ratings, but the rest received Ds or Fs. LEAD College Prep (19.3 percent students passed both portions of ISTEP+), West Gary Lighthouse (37.7 percent), Charter School of the Dunes (41.3 percent), Gary Lighthouse (44.3 percent), and Aspire (47.4 percent) would fall in the lowest 15 percent category.

In December, Marra said some low performing schools will not be renewed, saying “we will be taking that step very soon.”

GEO Foundation CEO Kevin Teasley, who runs 21st Century Charter, wants Ball State and other authorizers to look at alternatives to closure.

“The state didn’t close Roosevelt; instead it did turnaround and takeover,” Teasley said. “They brought in another model. If a school is low-performing, they can close it or open it up to bids from other educational service providers and give them a one-year contract.”

Leaders of those schools on the hot seat are nervous but hopeful that their schools will survive the rigorous process.

Danielle Sleight, Charter School of the Dunes’ board president, said the school’s test scores are “not great by any means but, comparatively speaking, they’re improving.”

“I’m not sleeping like a baby every night, but we’ve got our ducks in a row,” Sleight said. “I don’t think we would have been able to secure $12 million in funding for a new building.”

LEAD College Prep board president Michael Suggs said he appreciates how Ball State has listened to the vision for the school and ideas to improve student success.

“We have no guarantees,” Suggs said. “We’re optimistic and we think have a good plan. But it’s been a challenge trying to remediate students and getting performance at the level which we would like.”

Superintendent Chuck Salter, who oversees the Lighthouse Academies in Northwest Indiana, said Ball State is a great partner.

“In the past 18 months, there’s been a much clearer standard of what they will expect in future of charter schools,” Salter said. “We’ve been talking to them regularly ... and they’ve been walking us through the process, by letting us know what the timeline is.”

Salter said the schools’ ultimate goal is to help kids graduate, and currently all 50 seniors at Gary Lighthouse are on track to graduate, with 78 percent accepted into college.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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