Rob Staley founded his private school a decade ago, with eight students he expelled himself from public school. The former public school principal wanted the “toughest of the toughest” – the gangbangers, the dropouts, the pregnant. He wanted to give them another chance at education – and life – with a school that combines faith-based therapy, career training and a never-give-up attitude.
The result? The Crossing, based in Elkhart, Ind., has now enrolled more than 6,000 students since its founding. It operates on 15 campuses and partners with 35 public school districts across Indiana. It’s yet another example of the kinds of schools that are possible when the artificial lines between public and private education fade away, and the focus instead is put on creating options that better meet kids’ needs.
“I believe in public schools … they are run by good people,” Staley said in a phone interview with redefinED. “But the truth is, public schools can’t serve every student.”
The state-accredited religious school focuses on helping “students begin and continue their journey with God.” Its mission: to save students, not merely in a spiritual sense, but from a life of poverty or crime. Its focus: academics, job training and mentoring.
Staley worked in Indiana public schools for 25 years. He saw the extraordinary efforts teachers and principals make to encourage students to succeed – and how sometimes they still fell short.
Many students sent to The Crossing failed to succeed in district-run alternative schools. After founding his first campus in Goshen in 2003, Staley turned to his friends in the local district and asked them to send the kids that had dropped out or been expelled.
Staley raised private funds to educate these students but the need outstripped public generosity. Within a few years, he had convinced public schools in Elkhart, then Middlebury and South Bend, to support his school with public tax dollars. Although these districts operated their own alternative schools, they were encouraged by Staley’s willingness to try something different.
In South Bend, about half of the eligible seniors at The Crossing campus graduated with a high school diploma last year. “Those were 19 graduates that won’t be counted as dropouts,” Staley said.
Since the school doesn’t have a traditional freshman cohort – students typically arrive as juniors or seniors – the school cannot calculate a graduation rate that allows for comparison with district-run schools. Staley says his schools have an 87 percent retention rate.
(Update: A representative of The Crossings says Amanda – in the featured video above – is now attending Ross Medical Education Center)