Rodney Williams, the only boys basketball coach 21st Century has known, took the job in 2008 because it was time to get warm.
Williams was a football coach by trade. "It was cold outside," he said. "I wanted to move inside." Williams, the Post-Tribune 2016-17 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, isn't going back to his roots.
He has, in his words, "never had more fun coaching" than he has in basketball.
A 1973 Horace Mann graduate, Williams played football at Northwestern under John Pont.
He is a Gary lifer, returning to the city after graduating in 1977 from Northwestern.
Williams sold insurance for a while before becoming a sales director for the Hoosier Lottery.
The one unifying thread though his post-college life is coaching. He loves it. Loves the kids. Loves the camaraderie. Loves the challenge.
He was an assistant football coach at Mann, Lew Wallace, Wirt and Roosevelt.
Williams coached a Gary Pop Warner team. And he had stints as a coach at Holy Angels and with the Runnin' Rebels, a Gary AAU basketball team.
When 21st Century was formed as a charter school, Williams was asked to help form a basketball program.
His first move was to suggest that the school hire Ricky Haskins as the athletic director. Haskins hired Williams as the basketball coach and Williams brought on Larry Upshaw, who had coached with him as an assistant with the Runnin' Rebels.
The three have been grinding away for nine years now. Williams said it truly is a group effort.
"Larry and Ricky get a piece of this award," he said. "I couldn't do this by myself. These guys are important to my success. I owe them everything."
21st Century first started competing in the IHSAA in 2010-11. The Cougars won their first sectional in 2013.
Last year, North Illinois recruit Eugene German, the state's leading scorer, lifted the school's profile when he led them to their first regional title.
This year, Williams, the kids and his staff added to their profile when the team won its second straight regional by defeating Oregon-Davis in the championship game of the Class A Triton Regional.
The Cougars upset Tri-County in the opening game, winning by 12 points. The Cavaliers were ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press in the Class A poll.
It was a victory Williams didn't expect at the beginning of the season.
As the year wore on, though, Williams could see 21st Century was ahead of schedule.
"I thought we would be good but I thought we were a year away," he said. "I didn't think we'd get this far this quick."
Williams said they were helped by the contributions of Johnell Davis, a 6-foot freshman guard who averaged 13 points, and the return of junior guard Chris Rogers.
Rogers moved to Texas for his sophomore year and then returned this season. He started at 21st Century as a freshman.
The Cougars (19-9) lost to Lafayette Central Catholic in the Lafayette Jefferson Semistate. Catholic was ranked No. 1 in state.
Williams can't wait for next year when he believes another tournament run could occur.
"I think we have a really good shot at getting back there," he said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Early College High School Initiative has supported the creation or redesign of nearly 300 schools that serve more than 80,000 students in 31 states and the District of Columbia since 2002. Even more schools and districts have taken on this early college high school design challenge outside the auspices of the Gates Foundation. The exact design of these schools varies based on partnerships between schools and local colleges, but the foundational concept is that students can graduate from high school with a college credential as well.
The Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, model, which President Barack Obama mentioned in his 2012 State of the Union address, keeps students in high school for six years as they work through high school and college coursework and industry internships on their way to graduation. This model has been replicated by more than 40 schools since it first opened in New York City in 2011 and has become one of the most well-known early college high school models in the nation.
The Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation supports an alternative model in its work incubating charter schools.
The 21st Century Charter School in Gary, IN, has a bare bones high school curriculum, pushing students to attend classes at Ivy Tech Community College as soon as they can pass the entrance exams. Instead of hiring advanced math and English teachers or filling out its course catalog with “specials,” 21st Century Charter offers the basic high school curriculum and, from there, supports students as they complete college coursework for dual credit.
“We think it’s important that our kids actually get the college campus experience,” said Kevin Teasley, founder and president of the GEO Foundation.
Every student at 21st Century Charter qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty. According to Teasley, only 10% of them come from homes where someone has a college degree. That puts them at a disadvantage in the college-going process, which is reflected in the completion rates of first-generation college students. And that forms one basis for the dual enrollment model.
“We want them to have whatever challenge they’re going to have while they’re with us,” Teasley said.
The charter school serves about 400 high schoolers. Students generally take one or two classes per week at the school in a block schedule and they spend the rest of their time at the community college. Eighth grade graduates are expected to pass Ivy Tech’s entrance exams, and if they don’t, high school teachers help coach them to pass it during their freshman year.
As far as finances go, the charter school pays for each student’s tuition at the college, with no discounts. It is economical for the high school, which spares the expense of hiring as many teachers as traditional programs.
One student, Raven Osborne, is on her way to completing a four-year degree by the time she is scheduled to graduate from high school. She has been attending Purdue University’s satellite campus in northwest Indiana for the last two years after completing her associate degree coursework as a sophomore.
21st Century Charter School encourages students to take college classes over the summer, which Osborne did after eighth, ninth and 10th grade. The charter school has continued paying for her college tuition as she works toward a bachelor’s degree, which she is expected to get this May, even before she walks the stage with the rest of her high school peers.
As the nation debates the feasibility of giving students access to free college, Teasley said his students already have it. Most students graduate with at least one semester under their belts and the goal for 21st Century Charter is to get 100% of students graduating with their associate degree as well as high school diploma in four years by 2020. That gives them a head start toward their bachelor’s degrees.
Already, 60% of the predominantly black graduating class of 2012 has completed a bachelor’s degree within four years, Teasley said, compared to about 20% of black students nationwide and an even smaller portion of poor black students.
For his population, especially, Teasley finds it important to graduate high school seniors not only college-prepared, but college-experienced. He sees the traditional high school push to get more students into Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes as misguided.
“Start measuring worth based on how many students are graduating with real college experience,” Teasley said. “Stop measuring success with the number of AP courses offered.”
Figuring out the kinks of an early college model can be difficult. But schools like P-TECH and 21st Century Charter stand as ready examples of the value of trying.
GARY — Core'Von Lott was playing basketball inside the gym at 21st Century a couple of summers ago when his phone rang. It was his mother, who told him he had been accepted as a student into the Gary charter school. Lott was working out at the time with Eugene German, the prolific scorer who graduated last June and is now starring at Northern Illinois.
Meet Nathan Hook. Nathan is a senior at Pikes Peak Prep, a 12-year-old charter school located in Colorado Springs. Nathan graduates from PPP this May having earned both his high school diploma AND 61 college credits--his two-year Associate Degree from Pikes Peak Community College--while attending PPP. Nathan is proof positive that we can expect more from our students before they graduate from high school. He is proof positive that Coloradans can expect more from their K12 tax dollars. Nathan, has received a K14 education with K12 dollars. He is proof positive that PPP works.
Nathan plans to go on to complete his four year college degree in history and then his master's degree. He plans to teach and he wants to continue mentoring our students.
Pikes Peak Prep offers a unique early college program. We go beyond the idea of college prep and actually provide our students college experience. We believe it is extremely important for our students to receive college experience, on the college campus, while they are with us in our high school so that they gain the confidence and maturity to be successful when they graduate from our school. So far, that is working. While not every student earns an Associate Degree while in our high school, most earn 15 to 30 college credits. Every credit they earn is a step toward college completion and step closer to success.
Pikes Peak Prep covers the cost of college tuition, textbooks and transportation for our students.
Nathan is the second student to graduate from PPP having earned his Associate Degree. And we are just getting started! Onward!
The past few weeks have been filled with terrific school pride events that often don't get talked about in the media so I thought I would share these five pictures with you directly.
In Baton Rouge, our January board meeting featured performances from our cheerleaders and dance team. Our Baton Rouge school serves grades K-4 this year.
Our nation’s capital is full of countless tales of humble servants who began their terms on an improbable journey to impactful American leadership.