Date posted online: Thursday, August 02, 2007
Grant paves way for urban academy
McDermott considers it another incentive to stay in Hammond
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HAMMOND | A $250,000 grant U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky has landed will allow Purdue University Calumet to establish an urban academy that leaders say could possibly keep families in Hammond.

In July, Visclosky, D-Ind., secured an $850,000 grant for a range of educational initiatives within the region.

Hammond's portion provides start-up expenses and equipment for an academy focused on technology and science with a college-bound curriculum, PUC Chancellor Howard Cohen said.

"The venture was prompted as a retention of families in Hammond who might be tempted to leave in pursuit of a stronger public education for their children elsewhere in the region," Cohen said.

Census figures record Hammond's population in 2006 at 78,282, a decrease from 83,048 in 2000 and 84,236 in 1990.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said good education was a direct link to homeownership.

"It's frustrating as a mayor having no voice and watching people put their houses up for sale because of the school system," McDermott said.

Last school year's tally showed more than 14,000 students enrolled in the School City of Hammond, according to Gail Rodovich, executive director, Hammond Education Foundation.

The Hammond Urban Academy's organization plans would mirror the Yale-based Comer School curriculum that collaborates parents, educators, and community to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for children.

Fall 2009 is an estimated opening date, although no site is pinpointed, Cohen said.

Initially, the academy would be a middle school, but plans include adding higher grades annually until it reached high school status.

Parental involvement is a necessary ingredient for application of about 90 students per grade.

The facility would operate independently of the school district and be subjected to a citizen board. It would be publicly funded and open to all residents of Indiana on a lottery basis, Cohen said.

One longtime resident said the money could be used within the existing system.

"The money is a drop in the budget, but would be best served if they put the money in the School City system to give these kids who don't qualify for services, but with a little extra help, it might turn them on the right path for success," said JoAnn Palko, a former PTA president and Scout leader.

Copyright © 2007