By Louise Scott, Gary Crusader
It’s a done deal. The Indiana State School Board of Education (SSBOE) gave final approval for Trine University’s Education One—a charter school office—to charter Thea Bowman Leadership Academy for the next three years.
Superintendent Glenda Ritz excused herself from the vote based on Title I compliance concerns that she states are being addressed by the Indiana Department of Education. She qualified her abstention by saying that if the proposal passed for Bowman, the Indiana Department of Education would work with the school in an effort to resolve its issues.
Third District Indiana Senate Nominee and Area SSBOE Representative Eddie Melton expressed his support.
“The school has been in existence for 13 years. While there are some challenges with test scores, with new leadership in place, I am confident that the school will continue to move forward. I’m excited to learn that Phalen Leadership Academy and Trine will be working with the school to make improvements.”
School leaders from Bowman are already working with representatives from the state to correct Title I errors that date back to 2009. Executive Director of Education One, Lindsay Omlor, addressed compliance concerns that led to a non-renewal from Ball State University. Those concerns included governance, federal funding and a decline in test scores.
To address governance compliance, the former Drexel Board stepped down and replaced its eight board membership with five new board members. The current Drexel board also updated its bylaws and membership tenure. Omlor displayed information comparing Bowman’s test results with the state average and other schools. Her presentation indicated that while Bowman floated below the state proficiency levels in some cases and above the state requirements on other tests, the school continued to out-perform most schools in the city of Gary.
While addressing federal funding and Title I, Omlor expressed her confidence that with the assistance of Phalen Leadership Academy’s grants and federal program professionals, Bowman will soon meet all compliance requirements for Title I.
Interim Drexel Board Chair Michael Suggs said, “This is an opportunity for Thea Bowman to continue offering a choice for quality education in Gary. With the support of SSBOE member Eddie Melton and Trine University, we appreciate the opportunity to grow into a premier school in Indiana.”
The three-year agreement gives Bowman the stability needed to recruit highly-qualified staff. Omlor stated, “A highly qualified teacher is not excited about signing a one-year contract.”
In the end, Trine University was able to convince the board of Thea Bowman’s value to the community. School leaders Sarita Stevens and Michael Collins both agreed that keeping Bowman open is a value to the community and the children in Gary.
“We stayed focused on the students no matter what was happening around us. Our motivation was to provide students with a quality education and a place where this could happen,” said Stevens. “From there, we kept the faith that an authorizer would come through.”
Collins stated that the collaboration with all stakeholders secured the charter. “It was a great deal of work, but it was worth it for the children. We can focus now on closing out this school year and preparing for the next.”
School leadership—Collins and Stevens—along with the current Drexel Board members: Michael Suggs, Attorney Tony Walker, Richard Leverette, Eve Gomez, and Cliff Gooden, were on hand for the meeting in New Albany on Tuesday.
“I am pleased to see Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in the position to move forward with a new charter authorizer,” stated Melton. “I am encouraged by Trine University’s commitment to work collaboratively with the families, staff and board to strengthen academic and administrative achievements at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy.”