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South Bend Empowerment Zone's tactics improving South Bend schools


Through the South Bend Empowerment Zone, South Bend Schools have what is called a quarter 2 reset. This means implementing changes like clear backpacks and uniforms to improve behavior and attendance issues.

The school uniforms were implemented to help promote equality throughout the classrooms. Students were often bullied because their clothes were not as nice. The uniforms were also a safety measure. In the case of an armed intruder, staff can quickly identify who should be in the building.

The clear backpacks were for safety measures in the case of a hidden weapon, vape or e-cigarette.

Last quarter, South Bend Schools had seventy-eight percent attendance rate. Faculty were spending more time on disciplinary issues than teaching and advising. Data reveals only six percent of students were reading on their correct english language arts level and two percent on grade level for math.Meaning, out of the 2,300 students, 138 students were on their correct english language arts level and 138 on math. The schools also had about 3,500 unique student disciplinary issues.

All of these issues were unacceptable for the Chief of South Bend Empowerment Zone, Dr. Davion Lewis.

“For me, with any organization, it starts with expectations. Expectations drive culture,” Lewis said

He started meeting with teacher unions, school leaders and faculty and staff across all the schools. Everyone was on board with the idea. Dr. Lewis then presented the information to parent town halls. Several meeting ere held exclusively in Spanish. He said parents were shocked to find out homework was an expectation, as their kid has never received homework.Some parents were upset this change was happening in the middle of the year. He assured the parents and said the schools were in a crisis and he needed to act immediately.

“What I said to parents was, if we keep the culture of the buildings the way they are right now, no learning and teaching can happen,” he said.

Each student received an $80 voucher for new uniforms. The vouchers were also on a need to need basis — students were able to receive more money if they needed it.

Dr. Lewis recognized the drastic change might’ve been a hard adjustment apologizing retroactively to the upset parents.

“We've set clear expectations but we've tried to provide support for education and give folks grace periods to adjust to those changes,” he said.

The schools are already seeing some of the results from the change. Dr. Lewis said his primary concern is the students and is okay with upset parents and teachers feeling like their expectations have increased.

“But at the end of the day, my priority is learning. And as long as kids are succeeding, I'll be fine,” he said.

The school is also seeing improved outcomes. Since the reset, some schools have seen the average daily attendance rate increase to 88%.
The school uniforms have decreased school bullying by 54%. The clear backpacks have completely stopped the incidents of weapons, vape and marijuana use and pornography.

Dr. Lewis said he promised no more wide-sweeping changes for the rest of the year. He said the quarter two reset was not his typical style of doing things.

“I would have preferred to engage with parents ahead of time, garner their support, and vie for their feedback,” he said.

Parents have been supportive of South Bend Empowerment Zone’s transparency.

Dr. Lewis said there are more changes to come and will continue to do what’s best for the kids.

“The way I make decisions, I only ask one question: what's best for kids?” he said.

Rachel Schnelle is a Reporter/Assignment editor for WVPE. She can be reached at
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