MOSS: Rock Creek works to educate, dispel myths

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Posted: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 6:01 am

There they were, students of Rock Creek Community Academy, pitching in to spruce up the local youth shelter. A photo of their efforts led this newspaper one day last month.

And that made the day for those who lead Rock Creek,

They always feel proud but occasionally also feel put upon. They would like for the school better to be appreciated, at least better understood. They wish state backing of Rock Creek, a charter school, was even-handed. They hope everyone believes that newspaper picture reflects Rock Creek’s heart.

“Our goal is to do the right thing,” Susan Miller, the school’s treasurer, said.

Rock Creek concludes its fourth of a five-year charter from Ball State University. The school counts on a renewal; its worries instead center on competing for students and funding.

The school fairly nears its 525-enrollment ceiling. Yet, Rock Creek realizes it must market, not just teach.

“People still want to know how much tuition is,” Sara Hauselman, the school’s superintendent and principal, said. “We just keep working with that.”

Rock Creek opened not as Rock Creek and not as an indeed tuition-free public charter school. Its foundation is faith-based, a complement to still-adjacent Restoration Christian Church. The school joined the charter school world, frankly, to survive. Likely a reflection of a lousy economy, enrollment had dipped to 160. Hauselman, whose husband Bob is Restoration pastor, felt both obliged and determined to accept a reliable option.

Christian was removed from the name and, of course, religious teaching was shelved. Otherwise, compromises seem few. Instead of a morning prayer, students recite a pledge to behave, to respect and to celebrate one another. They still wear uniforms and yes, routinely serve the community with or without news cameras. The Rock Creek I visited recently reminds me more than it doesn’t of the one I first checked out more than 30 years ago.

“It’s just so funny — of all the years, the last three probably have been the quietest,” Sara Hauselman said.

“The fact is, they’re calm.”

No more than 20 students, if that, now are Restoration church members. More come from Jeffersonville than from any other community. The student body — grades kindergarten through high school — is undeniably diverse, a nice reflection of its region. Kids and their families choose Rock Creek for a smattering of reasons.

Dominique Whipple, a junior from New Albany, finishes her first semester and enjoys the smaller, everybody-knows-everybody environment.

“I was nervous at first, but it’s very welcoming,” she said. “This is better, like a private type.”

Dominique gave up playing violin in the school orchestra — Rock Creek does not have one — and she no longer can walk to her school. She considers these tradeoffs worth it, though.

“They’re on you, to make sure you get everything done,” she said. “There’s no room for failure.”

Max Vogen, a freshman from Jeffersonville, enrolled at Rock Creek when it became a charter school. He enjoys team sports and has more opportunities to shine than he might at Jeffersonville. Max basks, as well, in the small-school atmosphere. He likes the Rock Creek focus on character development.

“They treat everybody like family,” he said.

Olivia Hanley, retired from Jeffersonville High School, teaches math part-time at Rock Creek. Hanley was curious about charter schools, was eager to ply her trade in a small setting. She accepted as a personal challenge to prepare students for college. Hanley even helped chaperone the recent senior trip.

“The reality is, I can be closely in contact with all the kids,” she said. “I can be more effective because of the sheer numbers.”

Sara Hauselman and Miller recall that Indiana embraced charter schools in part because of an assumption they could operate less expensively. An impact of that is that Rock Creek and other charters receive no state money for expenses such as transportation and improvements to the facilities. Rock Creek offers some bus service, nonetheless, eating its costs.

Its three-building, hodge-podge campus certainly doesn’t dazzle, however, as families weigh school choices.

“I don’t know if we even need one roof — just awnings,” Hanley said. “So we don’t get wet when it rains.”

That said, Rock Creek leaders welcome and encourage rethought of charter school funding. Fair is fair, they insist.

“We’re not on a level playing field with public schools,” Miller said.

She and Hauselman said Rock Creek enrolls no students expelled elsewhere. The school reaches out to minorities whether they are athletes or not. Some people apparently think otherwise, examples of wrong impressions Rock Creek hopes to right.

To know the real Rock Creek is to appreciate it; on that its leaders trust.

“I know we’re successful,” Miller said. “I know we’re doing what we set out to do. So I don’t worry about it.”

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