SOUTH BEND -- Three struggling South Bend Schools start the new year with a clean slate. As we told you late last month, test scores at Riley, Washington and Rise Up Academy improved enough to get them off probation and avoid a state takeover. But the work isn't done yet.
Rise Up Academy students began classes Thursday. This year they are making more changes to make sure test scores continue to go up.
Carrington Harper used to be a struggling student. Then last year, he came to Rise Up Academy.
“The teachers here, they really care about you,” said Harper. “That is something I had never had before.”
Harper took the ISTEP tests last year. His test scores and the scores of his classmates would determine whether the state would take over their school. The possibility was alarming for teachers and students.
“They really explained it to us that we really need to pass these tests,” he said. “So we really kicked it in gear and I passed both of mine.”
The whole school did well. Rise Up improved test scores by 6.3 percent -- well over the 3 percent required by the state to avoid a takeover. So, what happened?
“A lot of people have been asking that and I think a lot of has to do with the work that the students and the staff have done in this building,” said Principal George Azar.
Last year, South Bend School Corporation was given 2.5 million dollars in federal grant money for their alternative school...then called Bendix -- but in order to get the money they had to change the schools location, principal, 50 percent of staff and the way they taught.
They did this four weeks before school began. They moved here and are now called Rise Up Academy. Principal George Azar says those changes helped increase scores.
“We are energized and ready to go,” Azar said.
Now, Azar says more changes are in the works. The school will implement the eight-step process – a program administrators at Riley and Washington say helped them raise test scores.
Teachers say they will also focus on Math and English every day with every student. The goal is to not only improve test scores this year, but improve education all around.
Before last year, Azar says, one of the things working against Bendix was the fact that many of their teachers were part-time. This year for example, all the Algebra teachers are full-time. So they get together during their prep period and they talk about what the students are struggling with and which students need more help.
There is more communication all around. Teachers tell WSBT, they are eager to start this year because of the momentum they built last year. While Rise Up starts today, Washington and Riley students don't go back until next week.
They also improved scores and are hoping to continue with that improvement.
WSBT spoke with the principal at Riley, he told me he is pleased with 6.8 percent, but it is not a victory.