Principals from troubled Gary schools detail improvement plans
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 February 25, 2014 9:30PM
School Board President Rosie Washington, Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, Brunswick Elementary Principal Gloria Terry, Bailly Prepatory Academy Principal Lucille Washington and Beveridge Elementary Principal Cheryl Ramsey were among those at Tuesday's hearings. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune
Gary schools on state probation
Watson Academy for Boys
Updated: February 26, 2014 2:01AM
GARY — Parents, teachers and students during a four-hour public hearing Tuesday heard a dozen principals offer reasons their schools are not making the grade and how they plan to fast-track changes.
Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the public hearing was required by a state accountability law that spells out requirements for low-performing schools. All 12 schools are in various levels of state academic probation.
At times there were poignant remarks from parents, uplifting comments from a student and general disdain from educators about the drawbacks of extensive testing.
“We’re teaching to test. I want them to know how to learn,” Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy Principal Adrian Richie said. “Gary is not a failing school system. ... Don’t lose the fact that when kids leave the schools, they are getting it done.”
Richie and the other principals detailed their students’ recent performance on the state ISTEP Plus test and what measures are being taken to improve achievement.
Richie said Wirt-Emerson is improving its college and career readiness offerings, one of the factors high school grades are based on, along with the graduation rate and Advanced Placement classes.
Wirt-Emerson senior Tyonne Green, 18, praised her school. “I wouldn’t see myself at any other school than Wirt-Emerson. Going into the fall semester at IU- Bloomington in the fall, I’ll have nine college credits already. Teachers push us to strive.”
The Lew Wallace STEM Academy, which has received a grade of F for the past five years, is in dire shape if its grade doesn’t show improvement this year. It could face drastic turnaround measures, although there’s also a preliminary recommendation to close the school in a cost-saving effort. Community forums will focus on the proposed closings in the coming months.
Interim Lew Wallace Principal Cliff Gooden said improvement measures are focusing on English/language arts.
Parent assistant Doris Porter said there has been progress. “We do have a dedicated staff. I’ve seen the concern they have for students. Give us time to continue to make improvements.”
Williams Elementary Principal Jacqueline Bowman, buoyed by 20 of her teachers in the audience, admitted that “standing before you is a humbling experience.”
She cited the elimination of an after-school tutoring program and a Saturday preparatory program as key reasons for lower achievement. Five teachers also retired.
Williams fourth-grade teacher Sharmayne McKinley said she tutors kids after school. “I am so tired of people downing our teachers. We have good educators in Gary. It’s time for us to step up and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Brunswick Elementary Principal Gloria Terry said enrollment at her school reached nearly 700 students last year and she was the lone administrator. “I am not pointing the finger at anyone, just stating the facts.” In addition, Brunswick suffered a large turnover of teachers. “I was overwhelmed in dealing with disciplinary problems.”
Terry said she took a course at Indiana University-Northwest on positive behavior and teachers began implementing it last year.
She said school staffers are even careful not to make announcements on the intercom during instruction periods. The school also doesn’t allow visitors during the school day. “Don’t stop teachers from instructing,” she said.
Watson Boys Academy has received an F grade for four straight years and its enrollment has dropped. “That cuts to the core because we want our young men to do well,” said interim Principal Williams Roberts. Like many of the schools, Watson is following eight turnaround principles to improve achievement.
Parent Kendra Johnson said Watson serves both Dorie Miller and Delaney public housing communities.
“Our children hear too often that they’re not good enough. They’re stereotyped. Mr. Roberts has attempted to show kids they are good enough.”
Gary Teachers Union President Joseph Zimmerman said some students are being promoted, even if they’re not ready. “Take a good look at policies.”
He also said disruptive students need to be removed and placed in a setting where they can learn.
“We test more than we teach. If you’re testing, you’re not providing instruction.”