New education era begins at Roosevelt
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 August 15, 2012 4:38PM
Dr. Tony Bennett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, acknowledges state senator Earline Rogers during a grand opening ceremony for the Roosevelt College and Career Academy in Gary Wednesday Aug. 15, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:57PM
GARY — The long-shuttered main entrance, marred by rotting concrete steps, opened its doors Wednesday as takeover operator EdisonLearning Inc. launched the school year at the Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
New concrete filled the walkways and the steps had been patched.
Officials including State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Bennett, state Sen. Earline Rogers, and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson hailed the school’s opening as a beginning of new opportunities for students.
Clearly, more than cosmetic improvements are expected.
Under Bennett’s bold move, the state ordered the takeover of Roosevelt and four Indianapolis schools after continuous years of failure. In calling for the takeovers, Bennett invoked a state accountability law that had never been enforced.
“We stand in front of you as one of the nation’s experiments, the eyes of the United States are upon EdisonLearning and the state of Indiana,” said Bennett.
“In Gary, for the first time in how long, our state and nation are watching you for greatness.”
Inside, some 768 students sat in classrooms beginning their new school year. A couple boys poked their heads out of a window to watch the ribbon-cutting and Principal Terrance Little hustled up to the classroom to refocus their attention.
Freshman English teacher Katrice Hayes explained the school’s eight core values to 19 students, some who fidgeted in their seats. One student bargained with Hayes over reciting the core values from the blackboard and agreed to read just two.
Hayes talked about respect and the importance of eye contact as students acknowledge her to begin class each day.
EdisonLearning officials spent the past year meeting with the community and recruiting students. The company recently signed a four-year contract with the state and is receiving $4.1 million this year — money that would have gone to the Gary Community School Corp.
It’s been a year of bickering with the school district that’s been stung by the takeover of its most cherished school and the loss of state revenue.
In a city marred by racial strife, Roosevelt was built in 1929 to keep blacks segregated from white public schools. The school has since built a strong tradition of athletic success and civic pride that’s been eroded in recent years by plunging test scores and a high dropout rate.
“When this building was erected, it served as a beacon,” said Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a 1978 Roosevelt graduate who said the city was once an educational mecca in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We are on the brink of new opportunity. ... Change can happen again. It starts here at Roosevelt,” she said.
Inside, there’s plenty of change in the teaching ranks. Only two or three teachers remain from last year’s staff.
Most who left had tenure and higher salaries they wanted to keep, Little said.
Seventh-grader Tyrus Banks, who helped cut the ribbon, said he’s proud to attend the school. “I’m excited about changes Roosevelt is trying to make,” he said.
EdisonLearning has a four-year contract and is expected to reach academic targets outlined by the state. At the end of that time, it’s unclear what happens to the school, which could revert back to the school district.
“The legislation is silent on that,” Bennett said. “When this legislation was passed in 2001, they never thought we’d enforce it.”