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School chief visits Roosevelt, calls for plan to keep kids in school

Principal DonnHenry (left right) State EducatiSuperintendent GlendRitz discuss infrastructure issues with SabrenDavis (2nd from right) Roosevelt Academy January 31 2014.

Principal Donna Henry (left to right) and State Education Superintendent Glenda Ritz discuss infrastructure issues with Sabrena Davis (2nd from right) at Roosevelt Academy on January 31, 2014. | Jim Karczewski\for Sun-Times media

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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:19PM



GARY — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz received a first-hand education Friday on the heating issues that have plagued the Roosevelt College and Career Academy, causing students to miss six days of school this school year.

Ritz and State Board of Education member Tony Walker, of Gary, toured the school with EdisonLearning officials. They were later joined by Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt.

Ritz’s main concern was keeping the school open.

“I think we need a plan going forward on what parts of the building can be utilized. Identify areas that are usable and fixable,” Ritz said after viewing broken coils and pipes that sent water leaking into classrooms.

Ritz learned 11 classrooms and the band room suffered from a loss of heat after pipes burst in last week’s subzero weather. She urge school leaders to prepare for the next heat outage by designating an area in the large school that students can be moved into, if necessary.

Ritz talked with a custodian who works for EdisonLearning Inc., which the state retained to operate the school, and with Charles Prewitt, director of building and grounds for the school district.

“In any old structure, you have to be flexible,” Prewitt said. He said some parts of the heating system are newer but the coils in the vents that warm the air were old. “It’s tantamount to having a heart transplant and not doing anything about your arteries.”

School custodian Gasper LaRosa pointed to missing floor tiles in a classroom near a malfunctioning heating unit and told Ritz the problems had been going on for years.

Ritz looked at the heating unit and the missing ceiling tiles and said: “This room is unusable, we’re talking about old structural pieces.”

Walker asked: “The question is, would you want your kids here?” No one answered.

Students who were relocated from their classrooms into the school library weren’t happy.

“It’s been unbeneficial. It means those days have to roll over and I need my summer to do other activities,” said junior Kevin Davis, 17, who sat in an English class.

“The seniors will get pushed back now,” said junior Asia Randolph, 17. “I’m making up work now. This is too much to make up.”

Ritz’s visit to Roosevelt was arranged prior to the heating difficulties. She also visited classrooms and met with Principal Donna Henry and EdisonLearning’s Sabrena Davis, who’s director of achievement. Ritz asked if the students would be able to make up the lost days with online work off campus. Henry said it could be possible.

“I’m looking at options,” Ritz said. “Even Saturdays online.”

EdisonLearning and the school district have bickered all week over who is responsible for the heating crisis. Both sides point to their duties assigned in a shared services contract, ordered by Marion County Superior Court Judge John Hanley.

School district spokeswoman Sarita Stevens said EdisonLearning didn’t have to cancel classes.

“They should have never called off school. There are warm spaces. They’re only using one-sixth of the building. That is a game they will continue to play.”



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