50 Years Ago

Thom Jackson Reflects on Dr. King's Death

It was April 4, 1968.  My oldest brother’s birthday. Not just any birthday: it was his 10th!  We had no money for gifts.  We gave licks instead: punches in the arm of your choice — one for each year. There was no greater joy for the 8-year old me than the opportunity to punch my older brother 10 times without fear of reprisal. It was going to be a great day— so I thought.

By the end of the day, the world had changed. A King had died and a Dream was born.

I was standing in my great-Aunt’s living room watching her RCA color console, which she “won” with S&H green stamps, when the news broadcast announced that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis.  At that age, I had always associated the South as the place where Black people went missing (or, “fell off the side of the road”, as they would say in my church when one of our church members traveled to the South to visit a relative and was jailed, beaten or lynched).

For some reason, I found it hard to believe that it would happen to Dr. King.  I thought that his safety was in his being so public.  He had marched with tens of thousands of people on Washington, met with World leaders (including the President of the United States, a really big deal at the time), and he had received the Nobel Peace Prize.  If he wasn’t safe, then none of us were.  I still remember the shrieked, pain-filled voice of my great-Aunt, fighting through tear-filled eyes, asking “Why did they kill that man?  He didn’t hurt nobody.”  Her “Why” rings in my ears every time I think of that day.

Today, my oldest brother turns 60.  No, I won’t fly to Dayton, Ohio to punch him in the arm 60 times — the 58-year old me finds greater joy in singing “Happy Birthday” to him and hearing about the latest successes of his 7-year old grand-daughter.

My great-Aunt is gone.  But, I am thankful to be a beneficiary of the dream of a man who stood tall on a mountain top and proclaimed that while he would not be there with us, we would “get to the other side.”  No, his dream is still not fulfilled: Black poverty still exists at morally unacceptable levels, police crimes against young Black men occur with frightening regularity (as does Black on Black crime), and too many of our schools are as segregated as they were in 1968.

Still, 50 years after his death, Dr. King’s Dream challenges each one of us to remember that the only thing that really matters is the content of our character.  That which is common in all of us is greater than anything which separates us.

Today, at 7:05 p.m. (Central; 8:05 p.m. Eastern), the moment when Dr. King was pronounced dead, my family will pause for a moment of silence.  I ask that wherever you are, you and your family join hands with me and my family, and pause for a moment of silence to remember the man and the Dream for which he died.  In that common moment let us consider that we are all beneficiaries of a great man and a life well lived; and let us each accept the challenge to find a way to leave this world a little better than the way it found us.

Thom Jackson


Gary Roosevelt students join national technology club, win at statewide contest

Student Success Heightens School Progress

A group of students from Gary Roosevelt College and Career Academy competed in an engineering and technology contest at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. They went in with lots of different career plans, and came back with most wanting to earn degrees in some area of engineering. 

The students, led by their math/geometry teacher, Jamie Wolverton, competed in the Technology Student Association competition March 9 in Terre Haute. They competed against seven other high schools in the state.

TSA is a new organization based in Reston, Virginia. The organization established a chapter in Indiana about two years ago, and students across the state have been joining.

Wolverton, a civil engineer-turned-teacher, said she attended a Career and Technical Education conference in Indiana early in the school year and learned about TSA there.

According to its website, TSA is a national organization of students engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. It's open to students enrolled in or who have completed technology education courses. TSA's membership includes more than 250,000 middle and high school students in approximately 2,000 schools spanning 48 states.

The juniors and seniors who are members of the TSA Club at Roosevelt are Jasmine Martin, Shanell Robinson, Jailynn Walker, Robert Barnes, Shemar Johnson, Devin Hale, Darnell Harris, Keith Davis, Ramon Gordon and Paul Lawrence.

The students learn through a variety of activities including leadership-building and competitive events.

In addition to teaching math and geometry, Wolverton, in her sixth year at Gary Roosevelt, also teaches introduction to engineering and that will expand next year with a second-level engineering class.

She said four groups of students participated in projects at the competition in Terre Haute, including the engineering project, an architectural project that won second place and two debate teams that debated STEM topics, which came in second and fourth places.

Students place, win in competitions

She said first-place winners were juniors Martin, Hale and Harris for a project they completed called "Drone Pollination."

The students said they did weeks of research and work on the project during the school day, and after school during their TSA club meetings.

Martin said they decided on the drone pollination project because of the dying bee population.

"Bees have been dying for a variety of reasons including pesticides and the Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind the queen bee," she said.

"We made a drone pollinator. We decided to use a drone because that's the closest thing to a bee," she said.

Hale said they demonstrated how the drone acts like a bee, and used pipe cleaner at the bottom of the drone to represent the fur on a bee's legs.

Wolverton said another component of the competition was leadership, and each student had to submit a resume and include information on how they acted as leaders. She said they were graded on the project, their resume and their verbal presentation.

Martin and junior Robinson earned second place in an engineering debate competition.

"Our topic was, should schools be allowed to track students around campus with an RFID or GPS tracking system," Robinson said. "It was a lot of fun. I've always been passionate about debate. This is my first time in a competition. It was a great experience.

"I listened to the other students debating and I loved it. I love to shut people down," she said.

Roosevelt striving to improve

The Indiana Department of Education graded Roosevelt a D for 2017, breaking the cycle of Fs over the last several years.

Gary Roosevelt Superintendent Ernest Williams said the school, of 620 students in grades seven through 12, continues to work on improving its academics.

Williams said the school is focused on data to improve instruction.

"We look at it by classroom, and we look at each individual student," he said. "Our students get intense reading intervention, and that can mean an additional class period.

We offer credit recovery in school and online. We also have a Saturday school."

School officials also have said in 2016-17, 76 percent of the graduating class enrolled in a two- or four-year college or vocational program.

They said there was a 54 percent reduction in out-of-school suspensions, a 92.59 percent attendance rate, and students in the class of 2016-17 won $1.1 million in scholarships.




Our children deserve our courage, not our complacency

Thom Jackson on Florida School Shooting

Once again we are presented with the tragic reality of gun violence in our Nation’s schools.  Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day Massacre of students at Stoneman Douglas High School was just 7 miles from our own Andrews High School in Ft. Lauderdale.

While we applaud the selfless heroism of the teachers, we have been here before.

Indeed a 3-year study of school-related gun violence “identified 160 school shootings across 38 states. Nearly 53 percent of the identified shootings took place at K-12 schools, and 47 percent took place on college or university campuses.”

The increasing frequency of these shootings appears to be making us numb to our most important responsibility — to protect our children.

Whether it is Columbine, Sandy Hook, Chicago or, now, Ft. Lauderdale -- our children deserve our courage, not our complacency.

As educators and as parents, we must be sufficiently outraged to act.

As one surviving student from yesterday’s massacre said, “There’s something seriously wrong with our country, even I can see that. We need more than ideas. Ideas without action are costing lives!”


Thom Jackson


Gary Roosevelt supporters rail against possible closing

Parents, Students Support School Improvements

Students, parents and supporters of the Roosevelt College and Career Academy rallied Tuesday against the possible closing of the historic school.


Parent Gladys Davis credited the school for inspiring her son, Kevin, to go to college. She said he received a musical scholarship and plays the flute at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.


"Whoever thought he'd go to college playing the flute and leading his section because of Roosevelt?" she said. "When I hear you're trying to close Roosevelt, stop right there."


She said her other son, Keith, a Roosevelt student, is now considering college, as well.

"There are so many working parents, if you close doors to Roosevelt it's like we're being defeated," she said. "You're not continuing to build the pillars, you're breaking them down... stop right there."

To shore up finances, the Gary Community School Corp.'s emergency manager, Peggy Hinckley, is considering closing Roosevelt and relocating students into another Gary school. That possibility triggered Tuesday's forum.

Hinckley said last week the district must maintain the school that has expenses of about $600,000 annually. "Now, we pay all the maintenance and receive none of the revenue," she said. The students should be in a better, more modern building, she said.

About $4.1 million in state money goes to Roosevelt's private education manager, EdisonLearning Inc. It just inked a five-year contract to run the school last year.

Hinckley included Roosevelt's relocation in a deficit reduction plan submitted to the state Distressed Unit Appeal Board.

While Roosevelt's academic struggles prompted the state to take it over in 2011, staff members point to the school's rise from an F to a D grade this year.

Principal Donna Henry said students were reading three years behind their grade level in 2012 when EdisonLearning began its first year under a state contract.

"It's constantly repeated that Roosevelt is a failing school... we moved that grade to a D. The staff should be proud. Put that myth to rest. Our students are not failures," she said.

Roosevelt alumnus MaryAnn Canty-Reedus said the state has labeled Roosevelt a failing school. "We still have to go on what the state is saying and realize Hinckley and her group wants to close Roosevelt.

"We have to work hard… this school is not going to go, but Gary schools are not fixing it up."

Mary Cossey, another alumnus, said her Class of 1984 would lead fundraising or assist in tutoring to keep the school open.

Several students voiced support.

Senior Robert Barnes said he's been at Roosevelt since eighth grade. "This is my heart and soul. As many times as I've messed up, they've been there, one step away… this is home and all I have left to be honest with you. This school helped me be a man."

Thom Jackson, president and chief executive officer of EdisonLearning, said he opposes relocating the students.

"We want what's right for the kids and at the end of the day, that's here," he said. "It has to be more than a matter of convenience," he said of the relocation. Jackson said there needs to be a well-thought out plan.

He said EdisonLearning has put $1.5 million into school renovations. "There's an assumption and narrative that EdisonLearning made all this money, so why can't they put it back in." Jackson said the company has been losing money consistently.

Jackson, who said he grew up in public housing, said education made the difference for him. "Go to the schools everybody gave up on and we could solve a lot of ills in this country. Roosevelt is an opportunity to create a model of success."


Roosevelt Students Advance to DECA State Finals

Students Shine in Competition

Recently, eight students at Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy in Gary, who are active in DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) students participated in this year’s district career development conference. The students compete in career areas including marketing, business management, finance, and entrepreneurship. All eight students placed in the district competition, and will now advance to state-level competition in Indianapolis, next month.

The students are: Shania Lankston - 2nd Place (Principles of Marketing); Ramon Gordon - 3rd Place (Quick Serve Restaurant Management); Saraphina Deer - 5th Place (Principles of Marketing); Robert Barnes - 5th Place (Business Communications); Shanell Robinson - 6th Place (Entrepreneurship); Montaz Oliver - 6th Place (Personal Financial Literacy); Keila Williams - 6th Place (Business Services Marketing); and, DeSharme Warren - 7th Place (Entrepreneurship).

Darnell Harris, Tyre Sanders, and Brianna Townsel will also compete at the state level by presenting their business plans.

Distributive Education Clubs of America) is an international association of high school and college students and teachers of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales and service. The organization prepares leaders and entrepreneurs for careers and education in marketing, finance, hospitality, management, and other business areas. It is one of ten organizations being led by a parent organization known as "CTSO" Career and Technical Student Organizations.