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Adult high school planned for 2020

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

An adult high school operated by Goodwill could open its doors in Marion in July 2020.

Goodwill’s Excel Centers are public charter high schools designed to give adults the opportunity to earn high school diplomas. The first Excel Center began enrolling students in Indianapolis in 2010 and since then, 13 more Excel Centers have opened across central Indiana, including in Muncie, Anderson and Kokomo.

Now, Goodwill Education Initiatives, Inc., a nonprofit formed by Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana, plans to bring the charter school to Marion.

“We know that there will be interest in Marion, and we’re excited to get things rolling and serve not only the students, but also the employers looking for employees that have the skillset to fill their jobs,” said Kent Kramer, president and CEO of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana.

Kramer said 97 percent of graduates of the Excel Center walk across the stage with either college credit or some kind of industry certification in fields like medicine, hospitality, manufacturing, education and technology. Excel Centers tailor the certifications they offer to the needs of the area.

“A hospital might have a shortage on certified medical assistants, or retirement communities might need certified nursing assistants … So we work closely with employers as well as the workforce boards to make sure that we’re preparing people for those types of jobs,” Kramer said.

“We know that there’s opportunities in Marion, in healthcare, advanced logistics, distribution, we know there’s opportunities for them, once our folks get their education, to contribute even more to the economy,” Kramer said.

According to Kramer, the need is there. There are just under 7,000 working-age adults in Grant County who don’t have a high school diploma, or about 10 percent of the county’s population, according to U.S. Census data.

“If you do not have a high school diploma, it’s becoming tougher and tougher to find employment opportunities where you would have wages that would allow you to provide for your family,” Kramer said.

And the problem is only getting worse. “The jobs of today and tomorrow are going to require more than a high school diploma, so you’ve got to be able to compete for those jobs,” Kramer said.

Martha Miller, a volunteer coordinator for the Grant County Literacy Council, said adult literacy problems often prevent people from moving up the ladder. In her tutoring, she sometimes encounters adults who can read and write well enough to fill out a job application but not much beyond that.

“If somebody wanted to advance, the problem would be they can’t read, they can’t do (the higher-paying job) … They couldn’t be promoted even though the company wanted to promote them because they were a good employee,” Miller said.

The Excel Center charter model also works to remove the other barriers that might make attending school difficult for some adults, such as the logistical challenges of childcare and transportation.

Each student at an Excel Center is assigned a life coach that helps to make sure everything outside of academics runs smoothly for the student. Excel Centers offer free daycare for children of students as well as transportation assistance.

The Excel Center in Marion will have the capacity to serve 300 students, and will employ 25-30 licensed teachers, administrators, life coaches, counselors and childcare employees.

“We do our best to hire locally. We like to have people entrenched in the community and part of the community,” Kramer said.

The next step for Goodwill is to secure the funding from the General Assembly to open the Marion location. Once the state funding is in place the school will have to be authorized by the state charter board, and then Goodwill will begin working with the community to get community feedback about the project, find a location for the school and begin developing community partnerships in Marion.

“We’ve got a little work ahead of us,” Kramer said. But that work is worth the outcomes, Kramer said.

One study of the Excel Center’s first 2400 graduates conducted by Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy found a nearly $10,000 gain in income and income potential for those graduates after completing their high school diplomas at Excel.

Another study found that Excel grads have a 76 percent persistence rate in college – in other words, two years after starting college 76 percent were either still enrolled in college or had graduated.

“These were once high school dropouts and now they’re finding success at a pretty significant rate in college,” Kramer noted.

Kramer said the school is so successful in part because of the wraparound services like childcare that remove barriers to education, services he called “secret sauce” that makes the program work for its students. Soon, students in Grant County will get a taste, too.