State schools chief in Gary: ‘We’re here for action’
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 April 2, 2014 9:08PM
Principal Terrance Little points out infrastructure issues to State Superintendent Glenda Ritz on a tour of the school at West Side Academy on April 2, 2014. | Jim Karczewski\For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:26AM
GARY — Indiana schools chief Glenda Ritz vowed Wednesday to work with the Gary Community School Corp. to create an education system that raises achievement at the state’s lone “high-risk” school district.
Ritz joined Gary schools Supt. Cheryl Pruitt, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and school board president Rosie Washington at a news conference at West Side Leadership Academy. Afterward, Ritz visited a few classrooms and then went to the Frankie McCullough Girls Academy for another tour.
Ritz, a Democrat, is devoting an unprecedented level of state resources to try to turn around Gary’s troubled school district. She’s brought in outreach coordinators and a platoon of Indiana Department of Education employees to assist Gary school administrators in assessing needs and creating improvement plans at each school.
“I am unabashed to make it happen. ... We’re done with talk, we’re here for action,” Ritz said.
She handed Gary schools the high-risk designation in February, meaning the state would take over all the district’s federal funding for remediation programs, special education and other grant-based programs. State control of that money will help free district officials from the federal bureaucracy, Ritz said.
The Gary schools have received Fs from the state for the past three years, and this year 13 of the 16 schools are designated as in either the D or F categories. Ritz said the high-risk label is based it on Gary’s financial instability and its unsatisfactory academic performance.
To escape the designation, the school district must raise its grade to C for two straight years and post two consecutive years of fiscal stability.
Washington said accepting the high-risk designation created a divide on the school board, with three of seven members opposing it.
“I guess if we had rejected the designation, then what? I think it was a good decision. I will stick to it,” Washington said.
Pruitt said the state education department’s new involvement in the district is not a takeover but a collaboration.
“We don’t want to condemn another generation to poverty and despair. That will not happen to Gary schoolchildren,” she said.
Turning the city’s schools around will take more than just copying what works at the district’s successful schools such as Banneker Achievement Academy and McCullough Girls Academy.
“Every school has a unique student body,” Ritz said. “You have to have strong leaders and a strong staff. ... We want each school to identify what they need.”
Freeman-Wilson said the city was prepared to support the school district with repairs to some school buildings.
“We are working with our partners in federal and local government to determine what avenues are available to us to put our money where our mouth is.”