Indiana officials end takeover of Roosevelt, returning it to the troubled Gary district

Less than a decade after the state took over chronically failing Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy, the school is returning to Gary Community Schools.

With little discussion, the State Board of Education voted 10-0 to end state takeover of the school — one of four schools the board returned to their local districts on Wednesday. Members also voted to hand three schools back to Indianapolis Public Schools, bringing to a close the chapter of the state’s turnaround experiment that started in 2012.

For Roosevelt, the move came after months of concern over the conditions for students, who last year were moved into career center garage bays after burst pipes damaged their historic school building.

Dramatic decision: Indiana ends takeover, returning 3 schools to IPS in a dramatic twist

Board member Tony Walker pushed for the vote in order to leave decisions about the future of the school up to local officials. But the move doesn’t necessarily mean the middle and high school is back under local control, because Gary Schools is in its third year of a district-wide takeover and managed by Florida-based MGT Consulting.

“There are very strong views on every side of the Roosevelt issue, as to whether it should continue as a school or not continue as a school,” Walker said. “The fact of the matter is, those are really decisions that should be made at a local level and not by the 11 of us here.”

After the meeting, State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said facilities “have a lot to do” with the decision to relinquish control of the school now, but also pointed to the new state-appointed leadership in Gary Schools.

“I think it’s in a better place,” she said. “Given the facilities, given leadership, given the space that it’s in with our board, it’s just time to have [Roosevelt] go back.”

Wednesday’s vote ends the state’s contract after June 30 with EdisonLearning, a Florida-based company that has managed Roosevelt since it was taken over in 2012. Until then, state board staff said EdisonLearning should work to transition the school to the district.

It remains unclear whether Gary will continue working with EdisonLearning. In 2017, Roosevelt signed a five-year agreement with the district to become its first innovation school — independently run by EdisonLearning inside a district building.

Before the board vote, State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick asked if anyone from MGT was at the meeting and wanted to speak about the district regaining control. No one stood up.

MGT officials also did not respond to a request for comment from Chalkbeat on Wednesday.

MGT will ultimately have to decide where to house Roosevelt students next year. Gary’s emergency manager is expected to present a recommendation Thursday for what to do with the Roosevelt building to the Distressed Unit Appeals Board, the state board overseeing the district takeover.

EdisonLearning had proposed the state allow it to seek a charter, which would have severed ties with Gary Schools — however, no board member supported that plan on Wednesday. EdisonLearning said it would have worked to raise $25 million in private funds to fix up the damaged historic buildings.

No one from EdisonLearning spoke at the meeting. After the vote, school leaders said in an email to parents that this does not mean the school will close.

“Members of the State Board of Education clearly recommended that EdisonLearning and the Gary Community School Corporation work together to determine the best, safest, and most appropriate long term solution for the students of Theodore Roosevelt today, and into the future,” EdisonLearning said in the email. “We have every intention to work diligently and collaboratively with the Gary Community School Corporation, as we have in the past.”

It’s been nearly a year since Roosevelt’s 400 students were displaced after sub-zero temperatures caused water pipes to burst. It wasn’t a new problem for the 99-year-old building, where burst pipes and failing heat have cancelled class a handful of times in the last seven years. But the latest damage is estimated to cost $10 million to repair — a big price tag for cash-strapped Gary Schools.

Students were moved into garage bays in the Gary Area Career Center, which state board member Walker saw during a tour in October. The temporary walls brought in by the district did little to comfort Walker, who at the time said the situation was a “disgrace.”

Students have since been moved into classrooms in the career center, Chalkbeat confirmed during a December tour. But the career center has said they need the classrooms back next year.

Roosevelt’s academic performance has only improved slightly since the state intervened. In 2018, the school received an A grade from the state, jumping from a D the year prior. But that grade was based only on how much students improved. It doesn’t include how many students passed the state’s standardized test, because new innovation schools are given three years before they have to start reporting those scores.

The last test results reported for Roosevelt in 2017 showed 3.3% of students passing both math and English, up from 1.1% the year before. And the school’s graduation rate has for the most part remained under 50%.