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Calumet College votes to authorize charter for Thea Bowman Academy

The embattled K-12 institution, named for a Black nun and located on the property of a former cathedral school, had been the subject of closure rumors.

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, Indiana.

A month after losing its charter sponsor due to academic and personnel struggles, Thea Bowman Leadership Academy (TBLA)—one of the oldest charter schools in Gary, Indiana—has been provisionally authorized by the Calumet College of St. Joseph, easing fears of imminent closure.

The news came Monday, when the CCSJ Charter Authority Board voted in favor of the K-12 school’s November application after weeks of media speculation and impassioned pleas from parents and staff associated with the 20-year-old school.

“Because of our shared values and vision, we believe that Thea Bowman will address clearly identified challenges in a meaningful way to realize their educational goals,” said Dr. Ginger Rodriguez, President of CCSJ Charter Authority. 

“We also believe that these goals can be accomplished, though the process may not be a quick or easy one.”

CCSJ Charter Authority Votes to Authorize Thea Bowman Leadership Academy - Calumet College of St. Joseph
CCSJ Charter Authority, LLC has accepted a favorable recommendation toauthorize Thea Bowman Leadership Academy (TBLA).

TBLA—named after the late Sr Thea Bowman, FSPA, an African-American Catholic nun and educator now on the path to sainthood—has struggled in recent years with teacher retention, declining enrollment, and low standardized test scores. It serves about 850 students in the 2023-24 academic year, nearly all of them Black, and previously lost a charter sponsor in 2016.

(Despite sharing its namesake with several Catholic schools around the country, TBLA is not affiliated with the Church. A former Catholic school on the property, also named after Bowman, was closed in 2002.)

Officials at the school claimed that Education One, which is affiliated with Trine University, terminated their charter authorization last year in retaliation for school administrators’ decision to apply with Calumet. TBLA was in a three-year extension period with Education One, due to expire in 2025.

For its part, Education One noted “really strong ongoing concerns related to both academic and organizational performance” dating back years.

Following the revocation notice, TBLA officials entered an extended legal battle with Education One, including multiple delayed court hearings on whether the authorizer’s reasoning and process were sound.

The school was granted a temporary restraining order in December as it awaited a decision from Calumet, a nearby Catholic university, which conducted an official visit to TBLA the same month and held a public meeting with members of the community on Jan. 25.

TBLA students in an undated photo. (Phalen Academies)

Before the latest rescheduled court hearing date arrived for TBLA and Education One, Calumet approved the academy’s application.

“We understand the concerns expressed in the reporting documents and we take these to heart,” said Dr. Carrie Hutton, Calumet’s charter authority executive director.

“These reports, combined with our own assessment, will enable us to focus our time and attention most appropriately. Our proposal to the State Board will address a plan for correcting deficiencies.”

In response to the positive outcome, TBLA officials expressed a similar commitment to rectification and progress at the school.

“There’s lots of work to be done and that work,” said TBLA School Board President Eve Gomez on Monday. “We’re going to be all hands on deck, moving forward towards something great for our scholars.”

The same day as the Calumet decision, TBLA also announced an $8M expansion of the school’s operations, including various new facilities on the west side of Gary.

“The expansion will consist of several phases, the first of which will include a new facilities and storage building, a kindergarten through 5th grade classroom addition and an expansion of the school’s cafeteria to double it in size,” the school said in an announcement.

The school’s new charter authorization with Calumet still requires approval from the Indiana State Board of Education, but a groundbreaking for the expansion has been scheduled for Saturday morning.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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