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10/4/2017 5:36:00 PM
Emergency manager outlines improvement plans for two failing Gary elementary schools

Meredith Colias, Post-Tribune

Plans to improve academics at two struggling Gary elementary schools will include extended school hours and comprehensive professional development.

Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley presented an improvement plan with the principals of Beveridge and Marquette Elementary Schools to the Indiana State Board of Education on Wednesday.

A state accountability law gives the board the power to place sanctions on schools in intervention status. Beveridge has received an "F" for the past six years. Marquette has receive an "F" grade for five years.

Hinckley's presentation zeroed in on the root causes of failure, including a lack of effective teaching, outdated instructional resources, and inadequate professional development.

The new academic plan includes extending the school day for two additional hours, three days per week for additional Language Arts and math instruction, Hinckley said. Their team is also implementing top-to-bottom professional development for principals and teachers.

The goal is to step in to address several systemic issues, said Dr. Jim Meza, the emergency management's chief operating officer.

Hinckley's understanding was that the district had eliminated its curriculum and professional development office for several years, she said. Teachers will be provided additional development support from a proven educator to boost both subject knowledge and how they teach students.

Principals now have separate meetings to discuss curriculum and other issues with her team weekly, she said. Over time, the district's central administration had failed to provide adequate support and professional development to those building principals, Meza said.

At Beveridge and Marquette, principals often lacked "instructional leadership." Their schools did not sufficiently use data to analyze student learning and principals were "poor time managers," he said.

Principals "were distracted by management issues mostly throughout the school day," Meza said.

The district plans to partner with education students from Indiana University Northwest and Purdue University Northwest to provide additional instruction.

"We need fresh people to work with children in more engaging ways," she said.

They are looking to improve teacher attendance rates — estimated at 90 percent across the district — and replace long-term substitutes with permanent teachers.

Hinckley's team is also introducing similar curriculum across all schools in Gary. We have a foundation "that was lacking before," she said.

Her team is setting informal student academic benchmarks every three weeks, and measuring progress every quarter, she said.

Using Title I federal funds, they have recently purchased new textbooks for the first time in about a decade at these schools, she said.

When asked how schools could have gone so long without new textbooks, Hinckley replied: "I don't know."

"It's been difficult to get a root cause for how that happened," she said. "It was a commonplace complaint we heard from principals."

In several instances, Hinckley said money was earmarked for textbook purchases could have been diverted to its General Fund, the district's main account used for salaries and other basic needs.

"There was a co-mingling of funds," Hinckley said, "money that was attributed to one thing that ... was spent for General Fund purchases and not spent for textbooks."

The district faces $108 million in long-term debt, Hinckley said. It is also running a $1.8 million monthly deficit, something her team is working to address.

They are looking at potentially consolidating students to one high school, she said. With an enrollment drop of 500 students since last year, having multiple high schools was "not economically feasible," she said.

"Of course, no one wants to hear that from me," Hinckley said. "We are trying to look ... what one comprehensive high school would look like in Gary."

Hinckley said she is looking at bolstering efforts at parent outreach and said her team is working to build trust in the community.

"There are people within the Gary Community School Corp. that care deeply about this community," Hinckley said. "They have been waiting for leadership to put it on the right track."

Historically, "we have not served them in the way the public has entrusted us," she said. "We are here to help them and make some rapid turnaround."

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