Giving dropouts another chance? Charter school looks to expand to Columbus

Columbus is one of four cities in Indiana being proposed for a charter school that would give high school dropouts an opportunity to earn their diploma.

Goodwill Education Initiatives Inc., a nonprofit group tied to Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana, wants to open Excel Center sites in Columbus, Bloomington, Marion and Muncie. If opened, they would join 11 Excel Center locations in central Indiana, said Cindy Graham, vice president of marketing and spokeswoman for Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana.

The nonprofit has already filed an application with the Indiana Charter School Board, which will consider the matter during its June 7 meeting in Indianapolis. If approved, the first adult high school would open in 2018-19 in Muncie with the remaining slated to open over the next four years, according to the organization’s application filed with the state.

The earliest Columbus’ location would open is in July 2020 if approval is granted by the Charter School Board, Graham said. As part of the proposal by Goodwill Education Initiatives Inc., each school would have about 300 students who would receive free tuition as part of their education.

The nonprofit would also make free childcare and bus passes available to students attending the Excel Center if needed.

“The whole impact on family is important to the Excel Center,” Graham said.

Classes would be provided to individuals following 8-week terms, which would include a mix of online and evening courses, Graham said. The Excel Center also offers elective courses in a number of different fields.

Feasibility studies were performed for each of the four proposed locations that evaluated demographics such as the number of high school dropouts, workforce opportunities and income data.

Goodwill Education Initiatives Inc. indicated there 2,988 adults live in Columbus without a high school diploma, according to its application filed with the state. In Muncie, that number was just over 6,700 individuals, the application said.

“There’s a great need,” Graham said.

Jeff Hoover, senior director of network and operations for the Excel Center, said the charter schools have been successful in preparing students for future employment and post-secondary education. As part of their education, students are required to take a senior seminar course that prepares them for the next step of their life, whether that means finding a job or pursuing higher education, he said.

Hoover, who oversaw the Lafayette Excel Center for a year and a half before transitioning into his current role, said part of the organization’s mission is to assist students in becoming economically self-sufficient. More than 3,600 certifications have been earned by Excel Center students since 2010, Hoover said.

Life coaches, which Hoover described as a mix between a guidance counselor and social worker, are available as a resource for students who enroll. While many students can’t go back in time to earn their high school diploma, the Excel Center gives them an opportunity to do so while preparing them for the workforce, Hoover said.

“It’s really what the high school diploma can do,” Hoover said. “We want our graduates to be ready for a career.”

An Excel Center site is slated to open in Clarksville beginning in July.

Jim Roberts, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., declined to comment on the charter school proposal for Columbus.

BCSC operates the McDowell Education Center, located at 2700 McKinley Ave., that allows students to earn their high school equivalency diplomas. The center offers morning, afternoon and evening classes and can also help individuals with transitioning to post-secondary education, said Andrea Quick, director of the facility.

About the schools

Goodwill Education Initiatives Inc., a non-profit group tied to Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana, is seeking to approval to open Excel Center sites in Columbus, Bloomington, Marion and Muncie.

If approved by the Indiana Charter School Board, the first adult high school would open in 2018-19 in Muncie. The Columbus site would not open until July 2020, said Cindy Graham, vice president of marketing and spokeswoman for Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana.

More information: https://excelcenter.org/

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com