South Bend school board to vote on proposed charter high school

SOUTH BEND (WNDU) --- Underrepresented students could have a new high school to choose from in South Bend.

On Monday, the South Bend Community School Corporation Board of Trustees voted to move forward on a proposed agreement with Purdue Polytechnic High School, or PPHS, a STEM-based charter school network that currently operates two high schools in Indianapolis.

School board members voted to allow Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings to start negotiating an agreement with the charter school network.

“We want to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who can gain admissions to Purdue. That's really the driving force behind the school,” said Scott Bess, head of school for PPHS.

PPHS partners with the Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University-West Lafayette. It offers internships, industry projects, dual-credit courses and technical certifications.

"We strive to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible so they are college- or workforce-ready upon graduation. A collaboration with Purdue Polytechnic High School would not only offer an additional means to earn college credits while in high school, but it also would provide guaranteed admission to the Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University for students who enroll in the program -- a tremendous incentive for students," Cummings said.

On Friday, the Indiana Charter School Board approved the proposed high school in South Bend.

Bess said the district is allowed to count the students and test scores as its own while the charter school network has complete autonomy over the high school.

Bess said interim data for a PPHS campus in Indianapolis that has freshmen through juniors shows standardized test scores are at or above the state average and are much higher than schools with similar demographics. Additionally, more than half of the junior class is on track to gain admission to Purdue University-West Lafayette.

Curriculum schedules are flexible at PPHS, meaning students don’t spend a set number of days or weeks on a module. For example, juniors in high school have academic work but use most of the day to work on “passion projects,” Bess explained.

After identifying a food desert in their community, a group of PPHS students designed a business module to grow hydroponic fruits and vegetables. They’ve already developed a sales and marketing platform too.

"For the students who look at traditional high school and go, 'When am I ever going to use this?' Our students don’t ask that question, because every day they're putting things into action," Bess said. "Everything revolves around projects, hands-on."

If the South Bend Community School Corporation Board of Trustees approves the agreement, up to 125 freshmen would be enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year.

Details are forthcoming regarding admissions criteria.

No word was immediately released on a timeline to potentially finalize the agreement between the network and the school district.