Contributed by The 411 News
GEO Academies is no longer delivering the education parents desired and the school promised
In April, U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Schools of 2020” ranked 21st Century Charter School @Gary as the best charter school in Gary. It ranks 248th among Indiana high schools.
Now, the school is answering allegations from parents and a school board member calling for an investigation of the school’s finances and removal of the school’s management company.
Parents said they wanted the best for their children and that is why they chose 21st Century over the Gary public school system and other charter schools in the city. However, the school is no longer delivering the education they desire, and the school promised.
Their five-page letter documents actions the parents say are interfering with the school’s mission for all students to show growth in character, academics, life skills, the arts and wellness.
Located at 556 Washington in downtown Gary, the school is operated by Indianapolis-based GEO Academies. 21st Century Charter School opened in 2005, sponsored by GEO’s founders, the husband and wife team of Kevin and Dana Teasley.
Dana Teasley said she was surprised at the letter from “Concerned Parents at 21st Century Charter School @ Gary” and the YouTube video, “A Message to the Parents of 21st Century Charter Students” posted by school board member Theodore McClendon.
Teasley, GEO’s vice president and financial officer, said McClendon is no longer on the board.
The K-12 school has nearly 1,200 students—the largest student body of all charter schools in Gary.
Parents are dissatisfied with low state achievement scores, which they say the school is not addressing. They are also dissatisfied that the school “has not upheld its commitment to providing instructional assistants for all classroom teachers.”
Teasley characterized the letter as the sympathies of a few. “If you look, they say they represent parents, but it was only signed by a few parents. It’s a small group of people shopping this around. It is full of mistruths and inaccuracies.” Five parents signed the letter.
The school’s newest site at the former Ivy Tech campus in Glen Park is among the issues raised by the parents who said they were promised a “state-of-the-art gymnasium” for students in grades 8-12 attending the school.
The Ivy Tech campus opened in the 2019-20 school year.
The letter from parents stated, “However, we were presented with an outdated college campus with no gymnasium, an absence of lockers, a bookless library, and a malfunctioning climate-control system, zero arts programming, marginalized electives, and void of a curriculum for the high school students.”
“We were looking at putting lockers in,” Teasley said, but that is postponed for now, adding they may not be necessary.
She said the high school principal was not concerned the building didn’t have lockers and recalled that her own children—during their school years—didn’t use lockers.
After seven months on the job, the high school’s principal was released without notification to parents. “It’s an employee personnel issue, one that I can’t comment on, but the board was fully engaged,” Teasley said.’
Parents complained that the school board officers allowed the Teasleys to take over their duties. Parents said the management company only presented one spending report to the board for the current school year.
“That’s untrue,” Teasley said. “Our authorizer Ball State requires us to present spending reports quarterly.” Parents want the management company to submit for board approval any expenditure over $1,000.
Parents want an audit of the school’s finances “by an auditor that has no familial/biological, personal, professional, business, or legal relationship with GEO Foundation, the Teasleys, or any board member to review the school’s bank accounts, bank statements, invoices, and receipts.”
“We are audited every year by the Indiana State Board of Accounts and Crowe,” Teasley said. “All audits can be found on the SBOA website.”
The school is only concerned with supporting students who can handle dual credit courses, parents said, and they use it to offset the school’s failing score.
Teasley said parents choose 21st Century because they want their children to earn college credits while in high school. “That’s our model. It was approved by Ball State.” She wondered why parents whose children have earned associate degrees had put their signature on the letter.
McClendon’s school board service started soon after the school opened. It’s been a one-way dialogue between the board and the Teasleys, McClendon said, with no accountability.
In his video message to parents, McClendon described the environment as colonial.
“As a board member, I put in too much trust and not enough verifying,” McClendon said. “You want to believe all have the same affinity for children as you. GEO doesn’t seem to have it.”
McClendon went on to say, “I wish I could have taken college credits in high school. The program is like the city on the hill, a beacon that only works for a few. In the times we’re living in now, we must ask the tough questions.”