By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
On March 23, dozens of concerned alumni turned out to voice their support for Roosevelt College and Career Academy during an intense public hearing that will help state officials decide on the fate of Gary’s most storied Black institution.
The hearing was hosted by the State Board of Education, which for the last four years, has tried but failed to turnaround Roosevelt under the management of the EdisonLearning Corporation. With the corporation’s contract set to expire this year, there is concern about Roosevelt’s future as it continues to receive “F” grades because of its poor academic performance.
Several State Board of Education members attended the meeting, including Roosevelt alumnus Eddie Melton, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Gary Community School Corporation Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, and Tom Jackson, president and CEO of EdisonLearning.
For two hours, the officials heard concerns and stories from parents and alumni. About 70 people were scheduled to speak, but many were turned away because time expired.
The meeting drew alumni from Gary and throughout the country who were seated in the school’s auditorium hoping to save a school that fell on hard times after years of producing a distinguished roster of prominent alumni.
Due to state law, the Board was required to hold a public hearing to help lift the academic performance of the school that has received an “F” grade for the past 10 years. In the last four years, Roosevelt had been under state control. State officials are weighing several options, including merging Roosevelt with another school, hiring a new management corporation or sticking with the EdisonLearning Corporation.
Some alumni say the latter option has not worked well at Roosevelt and created tensions between EdisonLearning, schoolteachers and administrators. Some say the state should return the school back to the Gary School District, but doing so would overburden the financially-strapped district.
The other option would be to close Roosevelt altogether, a possibility that has drawn concerns from alumni and community residents who view the 95-year-old school as a symbol of pride for Gary’s Black community. It was built in 1921 as the only predominantly Black high school that was built during segregation and the Jim Crow era.
In addition to gathering public input, the meeting included presentations from the Department of Education, EdisonLearning—the private management company who is providing classes at the school—and the Gary Community School Corporation, which oversees the Gary School District.
Days before the meeting, the Gary Crusader spoke to several community leaders and Roosevelt alumni about the school’s future. While some favor keeping the historical school intact, others believe that Roosevelt should be merged or consolidated with another high school.
“Roosevelt College and Career Academy is showing great progress,” said Melton, State Board of Education member representing Indiana’s 1st Congressional District. “This meeting will provide educators, parents, students, EdisonLearning, Gary School Representatives, and the community the opportunity to collaborate and discuss strategies for the continued improvement of students attending Roosevelt College and Career Academy.”
Antuwan Clemons, president of the Gary School Board and candidate for House of State Representative for the 3rd District, said he believes Roosevelt should be returned back to the Gary School System, but with added funding.
“This will allow us to operate the school and turn its letter grade around. The issue we have is all our schools have increased their graduation rates and the academic success at most of our schools are at ‘C’ or above average. If they are going to give the school back, they are going to have to give the school back at a zero-base letter grade and give us some transitional dollars. If they aren’t going to do that, we just can’t afford to bring Roosevelt back at this time because it would hurt us academically as well as financially.”
Before the meeting, Annie May, president of the National Alumni Association for Gary Roosevelt, stated the alumni made a unanimous decision on who they would like to oversee the school.
“It wasn’t so much the alumni that made a decision, but the children, and we support the children. The young people want EdisonLearning to come together and work together with the school district because they say there are some things that EdisonLearning does better than the school district and then there are some things that the school district can provide that EdisonLearning don’t provide. They want them to work together because the kids feel like when they leave here and go off to college; they don’t have everything they need. I support the kids. I’m on the kids’ side. If they decide to walk out that school tomorrow, there won’t be a school.”
May went on to say, “No matter what the grown folks talk about, what use to be and what is now, they are living in a different world. What they need to go forward is a little what we needed to go forward. They are feeling as though they are getting short-changed because even if they can do the book work, they haven’t had access to after-school curriculums to broaden their horizons once they get to college. They feel as though the district could provide that more as far as buses, after-school programs and some of the curriculum that we should be looking at. As far as the climate of the school, they like where EdisonLearning has taken them.”
One of the concerned citizens said Roosevelt’s problem is a no-win situation, saying that closing or keeping the school open will not help students. “The solution is to consolidate the schools. We need to have one high school. We don’t have all the students for all these schools to be open.”
One person said to build schools you have to close schools. Another said Roosevelt is a historical site that can’t be torn down. They, too, said they believe the schools should be consolidated.
Nadine Johnson, a 1958 graduate of Roosevelt, said she believes Roosevelt should be changed into a cultural museum. “I believe the only salvation for ‘Velt is to change it to Theodore Tatum Cultural Center.”
A wife and mother of one of Roosevelt alumni said she doesn’t think EdisonLearning should continue managing the school. Another person said if they can only graduate 35 students, that’s failure to her. “I don’t want them to come back to the Gary School District.”
One person who said he wasn’t a Roosevelt alumnus still commented on the fact that the maintenance personnel from the Gary Community School Corporation shouldn’t have been moved. “The same crew should have been left to care for those boilers that had been taking care of them for many years. The boilers are a very important, very dangerous and complex technology. On another thing, Roosevelt should go back to the work-study curriculum.”
Another person said, “I don’t have a solution, but I have a comment. Until we can control our own schools, like the churches, we are not going to dictates what happens.”