Thursday, September 15, 2016

Open Letter To Grace College In Opposition To The SSCA

Written By: Anna Hearn, Valparaiso IN

Anna is a mother of two and an attorney who has lived in Valparaiso since 1978

To whom it may concern,

As a lifelong citizen of Northwest Indiana and a resident of Valparaiso since 1978, I am strongly opposed to the South Shore Classical Academy’s application supported by Grace College for several reasons. I am also strongly opposed to the efforts of Ed Soliday and Ed Charbonneau who support Charter schools, which over ½ of them are failing in this State and thus, are not giving our children the amazing education and future they deserve. One can Google Indiana Charter School grades or go onto the Indiana Department of Education’s website and see for themselves that these schools are failing. Mr. Soliday and Mr. Charbonneau were not even at Wednesday’s night meeting by South Shore Classical Academy to hear the hundreds of their constituents opposing this Charter school and their election is only less than two months away. Mr. Charbonneau has a truck with his picture on the side of it that was driven in the Popcorn Fest Parade just last weekend and thus, he had a mode of transportation to attend the meeting. However, it was noted by Grace College that they had spoken to both of these men behind the scenes. Because of Mr. Soliday and Mr. Charbonneau’s lack of support of the public schools in Porter County, I strongly urge the citizens of Porter County to vote wisely at the poles this November so that this Charter school and public school funding fiasco can be fixed. Instead, both Mr. Soliday and Mr. Charbonneau have consistently voted in support of these failing charter schools, which takes money away from the A-rated Public schools to give to the Charters schools. Both of these men should save their postage and telephone calls on how they support Public Education, because that is clearly not the case. Our children in Porter County and this State deserves better.

The reasons that I am against South Shore Classical Academy are listed below. To begin with, the schools that Grace College are supporting are failing. Smith Academy for Excellence (specializing in a Classic curriculum) located in Fort Wayne, Indiana has received an F since 2012 by the Indiana Department of Education. Over 91% of its students failed the ISTEP test. The second school, Dugger Union Community School’s ISTEP scores showed that 70% of its students failed the test. Since Dugger was just opened by Grace in 2015, it is too early to give them a grade by the DOE; however, by their failure rate on the ISTEP test, it is on its way as well to get a failing grade. If one goes to the Indiana Department of Education Website, they can see for themselves.

Porter County Schools are “A” rated by the Department of Education. Porter County Schools provide an amazing education that includes not only the classical method, but many other methods that will prepare our kids to be accepted to the best colleges and obtain the best jobs upon graduation. The problem with the “classical” method, is that is limits the students to the past and does not prepare them for the future, as indicated by the above failing grades. At the meeting, the “board” stated that they just use books and not computers. Let’s be real, this is 2016 and we need to prepare our children for the future, which includes the use of technology. We, citizens of Porter County cannot stand for our hard earned tax dollars to be taken away from “A” rated schools to be given to failing schools to line the pockets of a board created by only several people that has lacked complete transparency. How can a child truly learn in a trailer, especially one with special needs? How is this ADA compliant?

Next, I also have issues with who is behind this attempt to create this “classical” public charter school. Two of the board members are from Fairhaven and the authorizer is Grace College. Fairhaven and Grace College are evangelical Christian schools and colleges. One of the board’s members, Diana Gonzalez, who stated in the public meeting that she is for the “best interest for her children,” was deemed by the Indiana Court of Appeals not to be in the best interest of her own when she lost custody of her kids after she had the children’s dad excommunicated from the Fairhaven and its school. (Diana Gonzalez v. Edward Gonzalez, No. 64A04-0712-CV-133, Ind. Ct. App. 2008). Per the facts of this case, after a member is ex- communicated from Fairhaven, they are shunned by the congregation and members are not allowed to acknowledge or speak to that person. Therefore, Mr. Gonzalez could not even speak to his children’s teachers or be involved in their education. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling and found that this was not in the “best interest” of the kids and awarded custody to the father who then placed the children in another school. Grace College’s core beliefs includes teaching about Jesus Christ. Grace College and Fairhaven’s beliefs go against the State Statute regarding charter schools which state that a “charter school” means a non-sectarian and non-religious school. It is unrealistic that these two evangelical entities are truly going to abide by these principals. It appears that they are attempting to obtain more school funding that what they could obtain from a private school. This is in direct violation of the United States Constitution and the separation between Church and State as they are attempting to circumvent the law. If these entities want to set up this school, then it should be set up as a private school and go through that avenue just like St. Paul’s and every other religious private school has to.

Further, I find that Grace’s failure to contact the school administrations, such as the Portage and Duneland School Corporation (the school corporation that the charter school is located in) is appalling as it is required by Statute. It is even more appalling that when one of the Portage school board members wanted to speak, Grace attempted limit her to speaking to only 2 minutes. Thank you to the audience members who gave up their time so that she could speak more, as it is obvious Grace College (who is supposed to be governed by Christian principals) did not want her to speak the truth, as to what is truly going on. They also stated in correspondence that they had spoken to representative from Chicago Street Theatre. A spokesman for Chicago Street Theatre stated that was false as well. Grace and the board members also indicated that they had been in contact with Valparaiso Mayor Costas, which again was not the case.

Grace also led everyone to believe that it had a lease land with the Greek Orthodox Church to put modular trailers on it so that the children could learn. Per the Priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, none of this ever occurred and was false. Grace’s non-orthodox way of doing things leaves one to suspect their true motives. Do they truly believe that the citizens of Porter County are that ignorant not to come together and figure these things out? Right now, South Shore has no place and/or land to put a school. Modular trailers are not appropriate for learning or for children. It is completely unbelievable that our State Senator and State Representative would be for this Charter when the above has and is occurring.

Most importantly, the education that I received from Duneland School Corporation and the education my daughters receive from the Valparaiso Community School Corporation are second to none.
My parents immigrated to the United States from the former Czechoslovakia to escape communism in 1968. They met in Gary, Indiana at Holy Trinity Church bingo. A couple years later, they got married at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas and then, I came along. As any immigrant, they wanted the best for their children, so they moved to Valparaiso, Indiana across from the Pines Ski Lodge. Having Slovak parents had its challenges, as my mother did not graduate from high school and my parent’s language barrier. My parents are extraordinary people, but they could only help me much when it came to academics. 

I began speaking English late and was behind when I entered kindergarten at Liberty Elementary School. I was struggling. The Duneland School Corporation never gave up on me and provided me with an amazing education. I played “classical” music with the then young Mr. Tom Schnabel on the State Ranked Orchestra. As part of the orchestra, we learned the classics and were in musicals and Madrigal dinner, which is a tradition to this day. I was on nationally ranked swim team lead by Kevin Kinel, who was just two years ago was ranked the Number 1 coach by USA Swimming and who helped produced an Olympian, Blake Pieroni that just brought home a gold from Rio. I will admit that I was not that good, but my experiences on that swim team were amazing and Coach Kinel not only cared if his swimmer won the race, but if that swimmer was also successful in life. That is a true teacher and life coach. As a parent, I am proud that both of my daughters are now on the same very swim team with the very same coaches, because these coaches do not believe in quitting.

I was also on the nationally ranked Trojan Guard. Chesterton High School also has a radio station WDSO that I was a DJ on. I was able to take two languages and took history and government classes with the amazing Ralph Ayres, may he rest in peace. He was a true Statesman and for the Public schools. All of these teachers and much more, not only cared about the classes they taught, they cared deeply about their students and thought of us as their kids. They would look at our schedules to make sure we were taking college bound classes and so that we could go to college if we wished. The teachers would take their time out of their busy schedules to give us extra help if we needed to get our grades up. I give them credit for helping me to get into Indiana University and then, law school. I have been an attorney since 1999. These teachers did not just see me as a Slovak kid, they saw me as a child that was going to be something, like they do with every child that is in their school system.

My amazing daughters are now truly blessed to be students at Hayes Leonard Elementary School, which is part of the Valparaiso Community Schools system. The Administration and the teachers care about their students just like the Duneland School Corporation. Both daughters are A students. Because Hayes Leonard Elementary is closing, my oldest daughter, who is in the 5th grade will be the last Student Council President at Hayes. When one of my daughters was being bullied by a child, they immediately stepped in and put an end to it immediately. My oldest was in spell bowl, which the Valparaiso Schools are top state ranked. Central Elementary is the State Champ in Spell Bowl and Thomas Jefferson Middle School is the Science Olympian champ. If the teachers see that my daughters’ grades are slipping just slightly, they make sure they pull them aside to get their grades back up. They too, are preparing my daughters for college even in elementary school. Just this year, they are introducing Spanish in some of the elementary schools.

Next year, my oldest daughter will be going to Ben Franklin where she wants to play the cello and participate in drama. Ben Franklin has a theatre program and does plays for the community. They also do the classics. The girls will be able to take many languages, take philosophy and learn classic literature, which is incorporated in their curriculum now. If they wish to participate in sports, like be on the gymnastics team that has continuously won State championships or be on the swim team, they can. It is their choice because each student is an individual and VSC provides every avenue for that student to excel to whatever that student wants to be as an adult. While in high school, if for some reason they do not want to go to college, they can participate in the technical program or other occupational programs that will provide a certificate upon graduation so that they will not have to live off of minimum wage job, which helps the Porter County economy. Valparaiso also has top rated sport teams and emphasizes in the arts. This is what colleges look for, a well-rounded student. This is what an A-rated school does, not an F-rated school like the ones Grace College supports.

In 2015, the Valparaiso Community came together to overwhelming pass a $150 million dollar construction referendum and an additional operational referendum so that we could completely renovate every elementary school and the high school. Administrators, teachers, parents and community members launched a massive campaign coming together proving to everyone that “We are Valpo.” Construction has already begun on all of the schools. Teachers have received raises. The STEM program is now available for elementary school students so that they can learn engineering. Foreign languages and music has been expanded, as well as the technical school. Every child is different and thus, the responsibility of any school is to make as many learning experiences possible so that a child can be anything they want to be. That is what VSC has done and is doing. Even though VSC is one of the top schools in the State, we still think “we can do better” and we are. Each child now has a computer they can use at school, something which South Shore Classical Academy opposes.

We, as Porter County citizens need to come together now to show everyone, South Shore Classical Academy, Grace College and Mr. Soliday and Mr. Charbonneau that “We are Porter County,” as none of the above can be obtained in a trailer at the classical charter school that Grace College proposes. Our tax dollars are going to house students in a modular trailer, seriously? We have to fight against our tax dollars going to Grace College that has already proven that the schools that Grace supports are failing. Porter County schools should not have its funding taken away because of this Charter when it has proven not to be transparent and are failures in the first place. Our schools should be rewarded for their accomplishments and not punished by funding being taken away by a self-serving group that just frankly wants to line its pockets with Porter County tax payer money and are failures.

I ask that everyone in Porter County and come together to take a stance against Grace College and the South Shore Academy and the State representatives and Senators that support this Charter School. Election-day is less than 2 months away. Let’s keep the money in our schools. I also respectfully ask that Grace College revoke its application based on these reasons and for all reasons given at the Public Hearing. This is not the County where this school should be located. I do agree with Superintendent Ric Frataccia that if Grace does continue with this Charter, the citizens of Porter County will make it their mission to run it to the ground.


Anna Hearn


  1. A former math student of mine tells it like it is.

  2. Thank you for opening my eyes to the situation. I am totally behind you on this issue. How can people take MY tax dollars and try to ruin a school system just so a few special interest people can promote there way of thinking? What is going on in INDIANA? How many things are being pushed behind our backs (The Dunes) because people can buy votes? Open your eyes at the polls.