Hope emerges for Thea Bowman

Leaders in talks after school denied a new charter

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Gary Crusader staff report

Intense talks are underway to keep open Thea Bowman Leadership Academy after state officials decided not to authorize a new charter to the troubled school.

About 1,300 students would be impacted if the school does not reopen after the school year ends on June 30. The school’s future became uncertain when Ball State University chose not to renew its charter with Thea Bowman, citing management and governance issues.

Thea Bowman decided not to appeal Ball State’s decision. Instead, the school aimed to restructure its board and pursue a new charter with Indianapolis-based Phalen Leadership Academy.

But after a two-hour hearing, Indiana State Charter School Board members voted 5-2 to deny the request for one of the state’s oldest charter schools, citing concerns over the new governing board’s capacity to oversee the schools.

“The standard I have is not to give folks a chance. I think it has to be: are all parts of the plan solid, so that we have great confidence that this will be an awesome experience for kids and families,” ICSB board chairman Karega Rausch said after the vote. “In my estimation, some of the challenges in governance didn’t meet that criteria.”

The decision sent Thea Bowman in a flux as parents, teachers and community leaders were left stunned and uncertain as to what options to take to save Gary’s biggest charter school.

Parents were informed of the rejection on Wednesday. They were also told that talks were underway to resolve Thea Bowman’s issues.

Thea Bowman’s future now depends on the ICSB, which is working with Ball State to establish a new charter with the school. With a new board at Thea Bowman, state officials are optimistic that the school will remain open.

Bob Marra, director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State said in news reports that his school is committed to keeping Thea Bowman open.

One of Thea Bowman’s new board member, Tony Walker said he is optimistic as well.

The news is the latest development in a crisis that that has shaken Theo Bowman to its core in the last two months. After Ball State decided not to renew its charter with the school, a series of public meetings were held. Parents blamed the school’s governance for Theo Bowman’s problems.

Amid their frustrations, a parent group called the Alliance for Community Education and Economic Empowerment, emerged as a possible option.

That group has been meeting with Marra and hoped to gain control of the school if the Indiana Charter School Board rejected Thea Bowman’s proposed partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson last week offered to help by pitching a comprehensive proposal to address Thea Bowman’s problems. To many, that plan came too late for a problem that was urgent.

Since the crisis began, numerous board members of Thea Bowman have resigned. With the a new direction and board members, Thea Bowman is being encouraged to patch things up with Ball State. Many of new board members have voiced concern over Thea Bowman’s decision to not appeal Ball State’s initial rejection.

Thea Bowman maintains two campuses. One is a high school for grades 7-12 at 3401 W. 5th Ave. Its elementary school is located in a rented space at 975 W. 6th Ave. Its enrollment is about 1,300 students.

It still owes about $18 million on a loan for the new high school. UMB Bank sent the school a foreclosure letter after the non-renewal letter became public.

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