The start of the 2019-20 school year is here! Students are returning to school with their hope of gaining more ground towards graduation and their plans for a bright future. This year is especially exciting for me as it represents some significant milestones in the history of the organization. One of the most important milestones is our organizational goal to serve more students throughout Indiana with the same high-quality service that our past students have enjoyed. When I took over as President in 2008, Options Charter Schools was serving 270 students in two brick-and-mortar locations. This year we will serve more than 550 students throughout the state!
The growth of Options Charter Schools has allowed us to build a stronger infrastructure of programs and staff. We are better serving our students by offering such programs as a comprehensive lunch program, a broader-based counseling program, partnering with the Hamilton-Boone-Madison County Special Education Cooperative to provide more extensive special education support, and hiring safety personnel for both of our brick-and-mortar locations to better improve school safety. Beyond those program changes, we continue to identify strong leaders both inside and outside the organization. In July, we promoted former Options-Carmel Principal Camille Scott-Tolliver to the position of Director of Curriculum and Instruction. To replace Camille at Carmel, we hired Mike Dunagan, formerly a principal with Charter Schools U.S.A.
The development or implementation of new programs and our commitment to find and hire high-quality candidates demonstrates our commitment to make Options Charter Schools a high- quality educational option for students. The Options’ board and leadership team continue to work together to build and execute a vision for Options Charter Schools that begins with students and teachers in mind. The future is certainly bright for Options Charter Schools.
I hope that every student and family have a very positive and safe school year. Please take full advantage of all of our programs and take time to get reacquainted with returning staff and get to know the new staff. At Options, we are all family – Belong, Believe, Achieve!
Dr. Mike Gustin, President
Options Charter Schools
It’s graduation season across Indiana, and we are celebrating our older youth who have earned their high school diplomas – with many students preparing to continue their education in the fall at colleges, universities, and trade schools.
In 2018 96% of Villages students in The Villages’ Older Youth Services Program attained a high school diploma or equivalency. This is a great accomplishment for older youth in foster care who often overcome significant challenges to pursue their education. Several of the youth graduating this year earned college scholarships.
“We are so proud of every single graduate this year at The Villages,” said Millie McDonald, Director of Older Youth Services at The Villages. “These outstanding young men and women are great reminders for all of us that nothing is impossible with hard work, commitment and a strong support system to help you soar.”
Among this year’s graduates is Larry, 20, who lives in the Terre Haute area and earned his diploma from Options Charter School in Carmel as a distance learning student. After a few years of personal struggles, Larry, with the support of teachers at Options and the team at The Villages, is not only a high school graduate, but a future college student. He plans to enroll at Ivy Tech to pursue a career in video game design.
“I’m more focused now,” Larry says. “A lot of people have helped me through some difficult times.”
“Completing assignments was challenging for Larry because he didn’t have adequate internet service where he lived”, said Jessica Thompson, a Case Manager for older youth at The Villages in Terre Haute. As a distance learning student, robust internet access is critical. Thompson met with Larry at least once a week to ensure he had all the proper resources to complete assignments and tests.
“Larry had so much support from Options school staff, including creating an IEP that provided accommodations Larry needed to succeed,” Thompson says. “They even had a math tutor drive from Indianapolis and work with him for two days until he was able to get all his algebra assignments complete.”
Larry has become much more committed to his future over the past few years, says Tiffany Elkins, a Direct Support Lead at ResCare Supportive Living Services. Larry has lived at the facility since 2017.
“Emotionally, he’s in a very different place. He has learned ways to manage his moods and walk away when he feels his actions could lead to trouble,” Elkins says. “He knows how to come to us to talk about how he’s feeling.”
In addition to starting at Ivy Tech this fall, Larry will move closer to his sister this month.
“I’m feeling pretty good about my future,” he says.
As part of National #CharterSchoolsWeek (May 12-18), Options is sharing stories about its teachers, students, supporters and more in an effort to help more people #ExploreOptions.
As a whole, Options Schools serve students from 91 different Indiana school corporations and much of that would not be possible without the Distance Education program. Behind that program is a team of five teachers that collaborate to serve students all across Indiana, each covering a different portion of the state.
One of those teachers is relatively new to the Distance Education program, but is no stranger to Options.
After beginning her teaching career in traditional public schools, Jessica Sunderman happened upon Options Charter Schools in 2010 and was drawn in almost instantly.
“I just loved what they were doing to reach students that had previously been excluded,” said Sunderman. “Nobody really knew what a charter school was in 2010, but it allowed us to reach students that would get lost and left behind in the traditional setting.”
The connection resulted in Sunderman serving as a Math teacher at Options-Carmel for seven years.
“I had the freedom to teach things in the way that I wanted and in a way that I knew would work best for my students so they could understand the material,” said Sunderman. “Every day was unexpected, but that made it special because we were doing service that few people were willing to do.”
For her, one of the most gratifying aspects of teaching is the ability to develop relationships with students. Whether it takes weeks or years, building a relationship with a student is imperative for her because it develops a mutual level of trust and respect, while also getting to know how each student is wired.
When Sunderman accepted a teaching position closer to her husband Josh and their three children, she still felt supported through the relationships she developed with her students and Options team members.
“I also served as the counselor for a group of Seniors and still was able to watch graduation,” said Sunderman. “Parents, students and other teachers were sending me videos to watch and they were reaching out because they knew the bond that I formed with those students and how monumental of an accomplishment it was for them to graduate.”
After having spent just one year as an Algebra 1 and Geometry teacher in a traditional public school, Sunderman saw that the Options Distance Education team was hiring a Math teacher in the summer of 2018.
With Josh, a member of the National Guard, deployed to Cuba at Guantanamo Bay, serving as a Distance Education teacher provided Jessica with the flexibility she needed.
“The Distance Education Match teacher position was a perfect fit,” said Sunderman. “It was a bit of a leap of faith with the DE program not having fully taken off yet, but everything worked out great.”
While Sunderman is no longer in a brick and mortar classroom, she is still serving students similar to those that she worked with at Options-Carmel. Building relationships is still a pivotal aspect of her role, but is now approached differently.
“You have to try to figure out who the students are before even seeing their faces, with nothing to go off of other than enrollment information,” said Sunderman. “It is all about taking the time and investing in getting to know them.”
By getting to know her students on a personal level, Sunderman is fortunate enough to see things come full circle on a regular basis when students connect with her years after graduation and credit her dedication for helping create the foundation upon which their successes are built.
A junior in the Options-Distance Education program, Ethan Howard has been selected as the program’s Student of the Month for April.
Dedicated to going the extra mile, Ethan first enrolled at Options in December 2018.
For Ethan, the ability to create his own schedule and work on his time is something he really enjoys about the Distance Education program. The subject he is most interested in currently is Careers because of how it has helped him get a better idea of different career pathways that are available to him.
Since having enrolled at Options, Ethan has shown major improvements in his communication skills and note-taking abilities. With help from an interactive approach by teachers, Ethan has been able to reach new heights in the classroom.
Ethan is currently undecided on what path he will take after he graduates from high school. He is considering college and starting a career.
A senior in the Options-Distance Education program, Jacob Hunter has been selected as the program’s Student of the Month for March.
Jacob first enrolled at Options in April 2017.
When he’s not working on school work, Jacob enjoys spending his time exercising, playing video games and taking part in adventure sports.
For Jacob, the ability to progress through his courses at his own pace is what he really enjoys about being enrolled in the Distance Education program. His favorite school subject is math because of the brain exercises that it helps provide.
By being able to work at his own speed and not having to worry about a classroom full of students, Jacob has been able to focus on what he needs to get done and therefore be more productive.
Once he graduates from Options, Jacob wants to have the ability to move around the country and work wherever he pleases. In order to have that ability, he plans on becoming an apprentice electrician, with future aspirations to become a master electrician.
In order to continue our efforts of serving as many students as possible within the state of Indiana, Options Charter Schools will be hosting six Open Houses during this spring and early summer.
Each Open House will run from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. and attendees will be able to tour the respective campus and speak with Options Principals, teachers and other team members.
Tuesday, March 12 (Carmel)
Tuesday, March 19 (Noblesville)
Tuesday, April 16 (Carmel)
Tuesday, April 23 (Noblesville)
Tuesday, June 4 (Carmel)
Thursday, June 6 (Noblesville)
The addresses for each campus can be found here.
Unable to attend an Open House? Visit OptionsSchools.org to schedule a private campus tour and you’ll also have a chance to have any questions answered by an Options team member.
Have you heard the great news?! We are pleased to announce that we will be purchasing land for our new school in Westfield, Indiana! I will be sharing more detailed information soon.
Please note the important dates/announcements for January/February:
We will continue our half-day Friday dismissals at 11:45 a.m.
That’s all for now! Have a super warm January & February!
– Camille –
With 2018 now complete, I am excited that the second semester is underway as we work towards making 2019 the best it can be.
Discussions for the future of Options Schools are always exciting to be a part of, whether they take place with the Options staff, students, families or members of our great community.
One of our biggest current focuses is on helping Options continue to grow across Hamilton County and throughout the state of Indiana with the development of programs such as our distance education alternative.
As we grow the group of students we serve, we are also growing our staff in multiple areas, which will allow us to grow successfully and positively by having a strong foundation cemented by a high-quality staff that supports everything we do.
While we work on setting ourselves up to improve the current quality of services we provide, we are also actively targeting additional growth in the programs we offer.
Our eyes remain forward as we look to replicate our successful programs in new communities as we work towards our goal of doubling our current number of students served in the next five years.