‘Steel school’ for Steel City
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 August 9, 2013 10:56PM
People leave an open house and dedication for the Charter School of the Dunes in Gary on Friday. The new school opens Monday. | Post-Tribune photo
Updated: September 11, 2013 6:10AM
GARY — Launched 10 years ago as one of the state’s first charter schools, Friday’s dedication of the environmentally friendly $12.4 million Charter School of the Dunes was especially poignant to its founder, Danielle Sleight.
Back in 2003 when the school opened in the former U.S. Naval Reserve Center on Lake Street, it represented truly uncharted territory for the school and the state. The other Lake County school that opened with Charter School of the Dunes, Campagna Academy, is no longer in operation.
Sleight, now the school’s chief operating officer, has been involved through the many bumps in the school’s road including a revolving door of principals, difficulties securing construction financing, and Ball State’s decision in January to yank its charter.
That came while the school was in the midst of construction along U.S. 20 and Old Hobart Road.
“It took courage, passion and dedication to build this facility,” Sleight said in her remarks while fighting back tears.
As the school’s charter sponsor, the Ball State Office of Charter Schools evaluated the school’s progress after five years and opted not to renew the charter because of the school’s academic performance in recent years. The news stunned school officials, teachers and parents who rallied behind the school.
In May, Calumet College of St. Joseph in Hammond agreed to sponsor the charter.
“Sometimes, like a first marriage, it simple doesn’t work out,” said state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, who co-sponsored legislation creating charter schools. “You take this experience and try again. I’m certain you’ll be something I can brag about in Indianapolis,” she said in her remarks.
Calumet College President Daniel Lowery said there’s a bigger picture than the view that charters siphon money from traditional public schools. “Parents can’t wait for a school district to turn itself around. They can’t gamble with their children’s future. It’s about now.”
Parent Amaechi Peterson agreed. She saw her 16-year-old son Dashawn’s school, the LEAD College Preparatory Academy, lose its Ball State charter in January. It had to close.
“I didn’t want him to go to a Gary district school,” she said. “He was in one and he was having academic trouble. Now, he’s doing much better.”
When school begins Monday, Sleight estimates enrollment at 586 students in grades K-11. There’s a waiting list of 90, while the school’s capacity is 635.
Designed with insulated metal panel systems and a reflective metal roof, the materials allowed the school to be built quickly and economically. Plumbing and duct work systems remain exposed and will be used as teaching props for students. The drywall and carpet are from recycled materials.
The school has won LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification.
“It’s not brick and mortar but steel construction in the Steel City,” Sleight said.
“Our parents work in the mills and that’s important to us.”