Chesterton Tribune

Portage adult ed on course to become charter school

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By VICKI URBANIK

The sometimes financially rocky journey of adult education in Northwest Indiana is about to take another new direction.

The Portage adult education high school may soon be designated a charter school. If so, it would be the first adult ed charter high school in the state.

Rebecca Reiner, president of Neighbors Educational Opportunities (NEO), the not-for-profit now running the high school and the Portage Adult Learning Center, said the school expects to hear about the charter designation on Dec. 5 from Ball State University. If approved, the designation would take effect beginning with the fall, 2012 semester.

Reiner said itís safe to say that the charter is likely the only option left to save the high school, located on Central Avenue on the west side of Portage.

The school typically receives $500 to $800 per student, but as a charter school, it would receive state funding just as other public schools in Indiana, or about $5,000 to $6,000 per student. ďItís a game changer,Ē she said.

The high school, which as a charter will be the Neighbors New Vistas High School, is available to any Indiana high school student who wants or needs an alternative high school environment. It has been an integral part of Northwest Indianaís adult education program, but like the rest of adult ed, serious financial woes threatened its very existence.

Up until about two years ago, the Portage Township School Corporation served as the fiscal agent for the regionís adult education, overseeing both PAHS and about 17 adult learning centers in a six-county region, including the one in Chesterton. But with state funding cuts and other budget pressures, the Portage Schools determined that it could no longer financially support the program in full and severed its ties, except for PAHS and the Portage ALC.

Some of the other learning centers closed, but about 10 remain open, now operated under the Center for Workforce Innovations, a branch of the stateís Division of Workforce Development. Chestertonís ALC, located in the Westchester Public Library Service Center, was among those that survived.

In January, the Portage Schools announced it would cease to operate the adult ed high school as well, prompting Reiner, who was a director at the Portage ALC, to get involved. In March, NEO was formed, and the long process of applying for a charter for the high school was begun.

As a charter, New Vistas High School would function much like other high schools, offering classes for grades nine through 12 and a high school diploma that meets the same standards as any other.

But it will continue as an adult education school, by not capping the age limit for students and offering flexibility in the programming offered, especially for students who work. Other programs, such as child care and the credit recovery, will continue.

In the past, PAHS had a student enrollment of 250 to 400 students, but enrollment is currently down to about 100. Reiner said because of the publicity over the uncertainty of the school, many people have the wrong impression that the school is no longer open. Once it restructures if it receives the charter designation, Reiner anticipates that the enrollment will go back to its previous levels.

The high school is, and will continue to be, open to any Indiana student. Typically, the high schoolís enrollment has consisted of about 60 percent from Porter County and the remainder from Lake County. The students come from all areas and for different reasons: Some couldnít complete school at their home school setting. Others are honor students who favor the small class approach. ďItís very hard to say that our students fall into a niche,Ē Reiner said.

Reiner said that as a charter, the high school will work closely with students to determine their best options. For example, getting a GED through the ALC might be a better option for some students instead of returning to a high school setting. In addition to a strong counseling component, Reiner said the school will forge strong partnerships with other community agencies and resources.

During this year of transition, funding for the high school and the learning center has been pieced together from various sources, such as donations, student fees, the Porter County United Way, and the DWD. The county commissioners have also continued support through county income tax funds, which began several years ago when adult ed was first thrown into a crisis.

Memorandums of understanding have also been reached with other school superintendents stating that during this year of transition, the diplomas offered by the high school will be issued from the studentsí home school. As a charter, New Vistas would issue its own diplomas.

A public informational meeting on the charter application was held earlier this month. Reiner said that so far, the charter designation looks positive: Of the 14 charter school proposals, four advanced in the selection process.

For more information about NEO, see neoadulted.org. For more information about the adult learning centers in Chesterton and elsewhere, see innovativeworkforce.com

 

 

 

 

Posted 11/25/2011