Dozens of people came out to support an eighth charter school in the city. The 21st Century Charter School, 556 Washington St. near downtown Gary, has a proposal before the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University to open Gary Middle College next fall. The university hosted a public hearing Tuesday night. Ball State President Jo Ann Gora will make a decision Dec. 13 whether to grant the charter.

The unique high school is designed for nontraditional students, those who have dropped out of school because they had to work, had a baby, had behavioral problems or for other reasons. The school will be housed at 21st Century, but students will be on an evening schedule, such as from 4 to 9 p.m. Students also will attend classes on Saturday. The school will serve students who want to obtain their high school diploma and go on to college. If approved, the school intends to start with 100 students.

Percy Clark, director of School Development for the Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation, which is the management company for 21st Century Charter School, said the expected age range for Gary Middle College will be 15 to 27. He said it’s going to be about “tough love” at the school with a small, intimate environment focusing on academic success.

Clark emphasized the new school will not be an alternative school or a drop-out program. Officials intend to promote students not just earning their high school diploma but walking away from the school with college credits, something school leaders say they will pay for.

Natalie Ammons, of Gary, questioned the criteria for choosing students. Clark responded there likely would be a lottery because they expect more than 100 students to apply.

Pam Marshall, of Gary, asked if students would earn associate degrees while also in high school. She also questioned the qualification of teachers. Clark said it will be possible to earn an associate degree, but it will depend on how many college credits students successfully earn. He said organizers will look across the country for the most qualified teachers.

Vanessa Allen, president and CEO of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana Inc., said she was excited about the proposal and believes it will be a great opportunity for Gary and nearby communities.

“You’re going to pay for college classes. You’re buying the books. It’s almost too good to be true,” she said at the end of the hearing.