Gary schools tackle failing test scores
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/302-0949 January 18, 2014 12:08PM
Gary Community Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, shown during a visit to Watson Academy for Boys, said the school district must hear from all schools about how to move forward. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: January 20, 2014 5:13PM
GARY — One by one, the principals from failing schools explained to frustrated Gary School Board members why students continue to struggle on statewide assessment exams.
The marathon public session lasted more than six hours Thursday as board members tried to drill down into the root causes of low test scores.
The meeting came one day after the Indiana Department of Education released statewide scores that assigned the Gary Community School Corp. with a district grade of “F.” Gary is joined by just five other districts in Indiana; the other local district is the School City of East Chicago.
Only three of 16 Gary schools don’t have to follow some sort of state corrective action.
While Thursday’s meeting was sometimes uncomfortable, Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said it was necessary.
“I just wanted to talk about all the schools and what we need to do to move forward,” she said.
No conclusions or consensus was reached and that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting, Pruitt said. Some board members, however, voiced frustration at action plans presented by principals.
“What we’re doing requires total honesty, we’re experts in education jargon, but we can’t fix something unless we’re fixing the real thing.
“If the problem in your building is unruly children, say it in your paper. If it’s inclusion, say that,” said board member Doretha Rouse, a retired teacher who chairs the curriculum committee.
While some board members, like Nellie Moore, another retired educator, felt the achievement issues were systemic, Pruitt said each school faces different challenges and needs different solutions.
The overriding commonality in Gary is poverty. The district topped the state in 2012 with 56 percent of its students living in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. In 2008, the district had 37 percent of students living in poverty.
Within that spectrum, comes a high degree of mobility among students. Bailly Preparatory Academy has the highest mobility rate in Indiana, Pruitt said.
Other schools have a high rate of teacher absences and other schools struggle with mandated special education inclusion requirements.
While 13 schools struggle under state accountability standards, the Lew Wallace STEM Academy is the most critical.
One more “F” for Wallace could signal a state takeover, although State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz says she opposes such takeovers.
Under Ritz’s predecessor, Tony Bennett, the state took over Roosevelt College and Career Academy, contracting its operation out to a for-profit education management company, EdisonLearning. That school also received an “F” in the state scores released in December.
As principals voiced their concerns, first-year Beveridge Elementary Principal stressed the significance of teachers.
“I have a strong sense of holding teachers accountable. It’s probably one of the most important duties I have,” she said.