The Excel Center: Success for Adult Students
Dr. Steve Dillon orchestrates success for adults wishing to earn their high school diploma and beyond.
Writer / Kara Reibel
Photographer / Keeley Miller
Goodwill Education Initiatives, Inc., a not-for-profit organization conceptualized by Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, Inc., was formed in 2004. The organization has since opened almost a dozen Excel Centers to meet the need of providing a structured curriculum for adults wishing to earn their high school diploma and advance their skills.
Five years ago, the first adult-focused accredited high school Excel Center opened, enrolling 317 students with an additional 2,000 people on the waiting list. With the need evident, this overwhelming response cemented their growth plan. It’s the first of its kind to be instructor-led, Goodwill Education Initiatives has created a template that cities across the country are pining to emulate.
“Currently, we have 11 locations in Central Indiana plus additional schools in South Bend, Austin, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee,” shares Scott Bess, President and Chief Operating Officer of Goodwill Education Initiatives. “Additional expansion is in the works both here in Indiana and nationally.”
“When we talked about opening an adult high school in Noblesville, eyebrows were raised due to the high graduation rate in area schools, implying that it wasn’t needed,” says Bess. “But the reality is that a very small dropout rate of larger schools really represents a significant number. No one has a 100 percent graduation rate.”
Noblesville Excel Center Director Dr. Steve Dillon recently retired from Carmel-Clay Schools. “Dr. Dillon is passionate about helping students achieve,” states Bess. “It’s evident in his enthusiasm and work ethic. His attitude is contagious with the staff and students. He’s a wonderful asset to Goodwill Education Initiatives and acts as a mentor to other locations. His community connections are wonderful.”
Dr. Dillon has a soft spot for struggling student. “I understand for most teachers it is hard to like the last kid in the class. They are difficult and hard to teach, but they are the ones that need the most attention.” His passion is clearly helping those to succeed.
There are other dropout recovery schools, but most are computer-based. The Excel Centers have computer labs, but their success lies in the unique personal attention to the needs of the students. Each student walks in at a different level. During the first two days of orientation, skill levels are assessed, and then placed appropriately to help them succeed.
In Hamilton County with the growth and business expansion, it takes qualified workers to get those jobs. The Excel Center not only helps students earn their high school diploma, the students earn certificates in a field and find employment.
The Noblesville Excel Center is the first to partner with Ivy Tech. “We have a wonderful partnership with Ivy Tech,” says Bess. “Noblesville is the first to co-locate with Ivy Tech but won’t be the last.”
Not only has The Excel Center found Ivy Tech to be very accommodating, but the City of Noblesville and Noblesville School District are very supportive. “We have experienced a gracious start to our school,” says Dr. Dillon. “Mayor Ditslear and Dr. Niedermeyer are very supportive and have been very welcoming to us.”
As Goodwill began scouting locations in Hamilton County, they soon discovered Ivy Tech had room in a building recently purchased from the Noblesville school district (former junior high school). It is an ideal match. The academic feel to both institutions creates a mature learning environment.
“Our students walk in with the Ivy Tech students, which gives them a boost to walk into the same door as college students,” says Dr. Dillon. “And once our students experience success with learning, they will want to do more.”
Sessions are eight weeks in length. The entire education model is set up for success for applicants. The focus in on the Core 40 Diploma. All Excel Centers are accredited high schools. Students can take four 90 minute classes in eight weeks. Flexibility around jobs and childcare is thoughtfully considered and available. Classes are offered nights and weekends, in addition to during the week.
“If someone came in with zero credit, it would take two years to get their diploma,” says Dr. Dillon. And they don’t just get their high school diploma; a student must earn a vocational training certificate or be enrolled with Ivy Tech. Certified nursing assistant, welding and forklift operator are all examples of certificates. “There is a shortage of welders in the state of Indiana,” says Dr. Dillon.
On staff are four coaches that are personal life coaches, helping, encouraging and supporting the students get their diploma, and most importantly, a job. These coaches help with “soft skills” such as problem solving, teamwork and helping get into college if that is the goal.
With tons of initiative, support and encouragement, students feel respected and encouraged from the moment they enter the building. They are the brave ones taking the step to achieve more in their lives.
The word “success” could easily interchange with “Excel” to describe the school, for that it how it is set up – to help students achieve success.
For more information, please visit ExcelCenter.org.