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South Bend Empowerment Zone officials ready to start school year

NOW: South Bend Empowerment Zone officials ready to start school year

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — New faces are heading into the new school year inside the South Bend Community School Corporation. 

Last spring, the school board fought downstate to implement an empowerment zone to improve performance at Navarre Middle School. A week before school starts, the zone is functioning with a full staff at each zone school, an executive board, and a zone chief named Dr. Cheryl Camacho, who says she’s no feeling pressure facing the school’s failing past. 

“I’m paying attention to that history,” she said. “I think it’s an important context for me to know, but I’m excited I’m energized by it.”

Dr. Camacho said she thinks the zone will be successful because she believes in the community and in the zone. 

She started her career in education as a first-grade teacher in Atlanta during 2002. According to her resume, she increased student performance at a school with the highest poverty rate in Champaign, Illinois. 

Before taking this job, she worked alongside the Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. SBEZ Board Director Sam Centallas said he is happy she took the job in South Bend. 

“It’s kind of like getting the number one draft pick,” he said. 

And the number two pick would be Lisa Richardson, Navarre Middle School’s new principal as of June. 

“I’m a buffer and a shiner and I’m a catalyst for change,” she said. 

Richard comes from Fort Wayne Schools, where according to state education data, her last school got a ‘B’ overall accountability grade for the school year. 

Navarre Middle School is facing state intervention after receiving six consecutive failing accountability grades. State education data shows that 90 percent of students in 2017-2018 failed a state standardized test. 

“We’re not teaching to a test,” Principal Richardson said. “ILearn will take care of ilearn if we take care of students.”

For the next school year, Principal Richardson said Navarre will focus on closing the achievement gap by adding classes like photography, dance, and theatre to make students want to come to school. However, at a ‘Meet the Board’ event on Tuesday, students, and parents to not show up. 

Dr. Camacho said getting everyone engaged will make a difference. 

“Collaborate with us, work with us,” she said. “We are really excited about this and it’s going to take a team approach.”

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