At the Gary Community School Corporation school board meeting last night, the board recommends closing five district schools and moving all middle school students to one new building. The are expected to be approved.
These changes were proposed in an effort to eliminate an anticipated $13 million district-wide deficit for next year.
The recommendation calls for closings at Brunswick, Bailly and Webster elementary schools, as well as Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School and the Lincoln Achievement Center, which houses some severely disabled students.
Lew Wallace STEM Academy would also close, but would be reconfigured as a city-wide middle school for students in grades seven through nine.
The board based its recommendations on a review of the budget, student enrollment and academic improvements, physical buildings and operational costs.
Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Pruitt says the goal is to provide a better, safer and cleaner environment for all students.
“It is clear that we have the momentum to move our community forward,” Pruitt says. “We intend to continue in that direction.”
The school corporation has experienced a significant decline in enrollment as well as compounding budget deficits in recent years. The district has also seen a decline in its property tax collection percentage.
According to interim Chief Financial Officer Michael Washington, GCSC currently collects about 42 percent of its certified tax levy. Many district buildings are also in need of repair after this year’s harsh winter.
The proposal also comes on the heels of an “F” rating from the State Board Education.
The board discussed its plan at a meeting open to public comment at West Side Leadership Academy. About 100 community members attended, some voicing concerns that a successful temporary solution does not mean a successful permanent solution for students.
“You think that when you move a building, you’ve solved the problem, but it only is the beginning,” says Dr. Lucille Washington, principal at Bailly Preparatory Academy.
In contrast, Gina Watts-Ellison, current principal at Webster Elementary, spoke up in agreement with the proposal. Hers is one of the schools that would close if the recommended changes take hold.
“Change [has to] come, we have to seek what’s best for the children,” Watts-Ellison says. “I love Webster will all my heart, but I know our building is not in the place that it should be, and if the kids have an opportunity to go to a better building, I’m for it.”
Rosie Washington, President of the Board of School Trustees, says although the decision may be tough, the board has to make changes in order to help the district improve.
“We don’t want to continue to lose students to other communities or to other systems,” says Washington. “We want to make sure that we have the very best opportunities and facilities that we can possibly provide here in the city of Gary.”
Here’s a look at the proposed 2014-15 school assignments:
- Pre-K: Bethune Early Childhood Development Center serves 3 and 4-year old students. Parents will be notified as plans for expansion of the pre-school program to other locations are continuing.
- Grades K-6: Students will generally remain at their current school. Students attending schools slated for closing will attend the elementary school closest to their home.
- Grades 7 & 8: Students will attend a new city-wide middle school, to be housed at the Lew Wallace School site. Learning activities will prepare students to succeed in the Core 40 high school curriculum while identifying interests in college and career readiness paths.
- Grade 9: Students will attend a separate Freshman Academy, housed at the Lew Wallace School site. Curriculum will focus on establishing a solid educational foundation for students entering high school.
- Grades 10, 11, 12: Students will attend West Side Leadership Academy. Special emphasis will be placed on the continuation of college and career pathway development, dual credit, mentoring and internship opportunities.
- Magnet schools:
- Banneker Honors Achievement Center: Students must pass the existing qualifying criteria for high ability to enroll.
- McCullough Academy for Girls & Dr. Watson Academy for Boys: Open enrollment continues.
- New Tech Innovative Institute: Approximately 100 freshman will have the opportunity to enroll in the New Tech High School, to be housed at West Side Leadership Academy. The school currently has limited space in grades 10, 11 and 12 (maximum enrollment is approximately 100 students per grade).
- Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability: Students must pass the existing qualifying criteria for high ability, including a successful visual and performing arts audition, to enroll.
Transportation for all ages would be provided in accordance with the adopted school board policies.
The school board will meet with the superintendent once more next week to make a final decision on the configuration.