INDIANA MINORITY BUSINESS MAGAZINE: Helping Charters Deliver the Goods

Brush your teeth. Don’t forget mouthwash and deodorant. Pull up the trousers. Comb your hair – and not too much cleavage. Today is internship day. Remember, you will be representing the school as much as yourself.

Students at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School are used to hearing such admonishment. Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana Inc. opened the public charter school six years ago under the philosophy that when the right instructional model is used every child can excel at education. The approach has worked.

Metropolitan High’s students must apply to college and most end up going. But before they get there, they’re required to spend a significant amount of time preparing for the work world through nonpaying internships, one or two days a week, with real employers in the careers fields that they are considering. It’s called OJT – on-the-job training.

Metropolitan was opened in Indianapolis, Ind. in 2004 by the Goodwill Education Initiative Inc. The institution’s educational formula is simple but effective. It includes class sizes of not more than 17 students, a curriculum that relies heavily on adult mentors and trained educational advisers, and a customized learning program to fit a student’s strongest performance capabilities.

An impoverished background is no acceptable excuse for not making the grade at Metropolitan. “We expect that our students don’t just graduate but that they go on to some post-secondary education,” beams Cindy L. Graham, vice president of marketing for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana.

Serving grades 9-12, the school is a proven example of how a dedicated public-private partnership can enrich the formal educational process and lift people out of poverty. Some 70-80 percent of Metropolitan’s students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. They find their way to the school from across the racial spectrum. Metropolitan and Goodwill Industries share the same campus just off of downtown, which allows the school to receive a boatload of help from Goodwill’s business operations.

“Goodwill provides in-kind support to the high school, such as accounting, marketing, human resources and janitorial services,” explains Graham. “We don’t have access to public funds to support our capital improvement and transportation. That must come from elsewhere.”

Charter schools receive no money from state government for capital expenditures. They do get per-student income from government to help pay for educational services, but by and large they must raise money by other means to pay for building upkeep and expansion. Although Goodwill Industries spreads a lot of benevolence of its own through its donation stores, the Goodwill Education Initiative relies on private donors, fund-raising campaigns and money from other sources to help finance its high school.

Corporations step up

Indiana businesses also are part of the saving grace for Joshua Academy, a public charter school in Evansville, Ind. “Our goal is to raise about $100,000 annually from local business,” says Pamela Decker, executive director of the academy. “Our challenge is, while we do receive state support, we have to take everything out of the one general fund, which is the only fund we get to pull from as a charter school.”

About 10 percent of Joshua Academy’s budget comes from local businesses. Casino Aztar, Wabash Plastics and Vectren Corp. are among the biggest contributors. They do it because the school gets results, Decker notes matter-of-factly. “If we can get them to come and take a look at us, the kids pretty much convince them,” she says. “The businesses see how well-behaved, how innovative, how creative that the methodology and the philosophy is and they are hooked.” Joshua has a development director, who works with Decker to coordinate gifts from businesses.

St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville helped to establish Joshua Academy in 1988. Its halls bustle with some 240 youngsters, grades K-5, on school days. The charter was opened through the inspiration of the Nazarene Baptist Church of Evansville.

Eighty percent of Joshua’s students can receive free and reduced-price lunches. Decker succeeds in convincing people that Joshua’s mission and methodologies are worth taking a chance on because of its achievements. Test scores don’t lie. “We have had pretty good success with ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus), and our Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports,” she says. Among Vanderburgh County’s 21 non-special education public elementary schools, Joshua Academy ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, over the last two years.

“Everybody is really concerned, especially in the inner-city, about closing the achievement gap,” says Decker. “And we all know how important education is to that and how well educated the populace is has an impact on economics.”

Calling all volunteers

That message is not lost on the Imagine Master Academy in Fort Wayne, Ind., which has drawn 759 students in grades K-8 to a picturesque campus in north Fort Wayne. Chartered by Ball State University, Imagine sits on 27 acres of a converted former Young Women’s Christian Association complex consisting of seven buildings with striking Spanish architecture.

“The plan is to continue to expand. We figure at some point that we will have over 1,100 students on this property,” predicts James Huth, the principal of Imagine. “Since it was a former YWCA, we have a pretty amazing environment. We have two oversized basketball gyms connected to each other and surrounded by a second-level, indoor track.” The facility also has a full-size football/soccer field and is surrounded by 15 acres of scenic beauty.

Although Imagine Academy does not yet enjoy direct monetary support from local businesses, it does sometimes receive in-kind services from professionals in Fort Wayne. Several adult volunteers, for example, visited Imagine to help out on “National Read Across America Day,” which is observed by some schools around the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Suess) on March 2. The school relies on loans and federal grants to fund some of its building projects, and receives Title 1 funding to assist with programs for low-income students.

“There are always opportunities out there to partner with businesses and the academy is always open to pursuing those,” says Huth. The school has 37 teachers and three administrators. It is aligned with the Imagine Schools Corp., an education management company that operates 74 charter schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Ball State expects results from Imagine, which has performed respectably on the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) exams and ISTEP. The university will use test scores in determining whether the academy’s charter is renewed in a couple of years, “so it’s very daunting. It’s very harsh. That’s good because it keeps us on our toes; it keeps us connected to our academic data and whether our kids are performing or not,” remarks Huth, who previously worked as an educator and administrator with Whitley County (Ind.) Consolidated Schools for 20 years.

It is difficult sometimes for leaders in traditional public schools to force teachers to really be accountable to academic gains, which has become an infamous tradition, laments Huth. “But we have no other choice; we have to be accountable,” he says.

It’s about the autonomy

There also have been no major business contributions to the 21st Century Charter School at Gary, Ind. Nevertheless, the K-12 school has flourished in the once booming steel town, which has produced such celebrities as the Jackson family entertainers, Karl Malden and Richard Hatcher. The public charter is affiliated with the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation, which provides most of its financing.

The Gary school’s parent organization does some private fundraising, and has had limited success in drawing charitable contributions and gifts from individuals and other foundations. When GEO opens a charter school, it also can apply for a $200,000 federal grant that can be used to support school operations for a couple of years. Other than that, the foundation is pretty much on its own.

“We really do not have any relationship with other businesses,” says Molly Robinson, interim principal at the Gary charter school. “All of our external funding comes from GEO Foundation. They founded our school and wrote the charter.” Chartered by Ball State, her school has 340 students and 30 staff members. The GEO Foundation, based in Indianapolis, sponsors four charter schools, including two in Indianapolis – Fountain Square Academy and Fall Creek Academy – Pikes Peak Prep in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the school in Gary.

Twenty-first Century uses a teacher and an aide in every K-8 class, which has paid off. Last year the school achieved its Annual Yearly Progress goals, which coincides with the No Child Left Behind Act.

“That was kind of a big feat,” asserts Robinson, who is filling in while Principal Angela D. West is on leave. “Our amount of improvement was 10th in the state overall, and was second in Lake County.” More than 70 percent of 21st Century’s students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

Money does not seem to be a problem for GEO. The foundation has asked Ball State to approve another new charter school that would offer nighttime high school classes in Gary, “so young people that find it impossible to go to school during the day because of family situations, employment, children or what have you, can attend school in the evenings,” says Percy Clark, director of new school development at GEO. “Our goal is we want to get some of those kids that are dropping out to get in school in the evening, where they can get in an environment where people really care about them.”

Clark is passionate over the Gary charter school’s academic achievement and the staff and community, who make it possible. So far, charter schools such as Metropolitan High, Evansville’s Joshua Academy, Fort Wayne’s Imagine Academy and 21st Century in Gary have delivered the goods. Their challenge is to continue doing so.


Are You Ready? Learn More – Earn More! Let’s Get Started!

Enrollment at Gary Middle College (East & West) is open to all students, no matter where you live.
We serve students from Gary and all around the area!

Both locations for Gary Middle College (East & West) operate Monday-Friday, from 8:00AM-8:00PM. Three shifts are offered to accommodate different schedules. You may choose which shift works for you. Part-Time Schedule with Full-Time Results!

Morning: 8 AM – 11 AM
Afternoon: 12 PM – 3 PM
Evening: 4 PM – 8 PM

Free child care for Gary Middle College students is available at an off-site location.
Students are responsible for dropping off and picking up their child from the facility.