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Stakes high for Gary’s Dunbar-Pulaski school

Dunbar-Pulaski Academic Career Academy 920 E. 9th Ave. Gary. | Carole Carlson~Sun-Times Media

Dunbar-Pulaski Academic and Career Academy, 920 E. 9th Ave., Gary. | Carole Carlson~Sun-Times Media

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WHAT: State hearing on future of Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday

WHERE: 920 E. 19th Ave., Gary

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Updated: September 11, 2014 6:34AM



GARY — When they removed the failing Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School from a school closing list in June, Gary Community School Corp. officials hoped they could repackage it and turn the school around.

They couldn’t afford to lose any more students and funding to charter schools.

The district has renamed Dunbar-Pulaski the Gary Middle School and it’s touting an outside “meet and greet” picnic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Some of the school’s new-found enthusiasm might be tempered by Monday’s state hearing, led by state school chief Glenda Ritz.

It’s expected to culminate with some type of state intervention at the struggling school where 84 percent of the students failed last spring’s ISTEP Plus exam. It the state decides to take over the school, all state funding would go to the private takeover operator. One Gary school — Roosevelt — already has been taken over by the state for poor academic progress.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said earlier that the school might escape state sanctions if it shows that its enrollment base has changed. Pruitt will offer a solution to the school’s academic woes at Monday’s 6:30 p.m. hearing at the school, 920 E. 19th Ave.

Dunbar-Pulaski’s recently released ISTEP results underscore a pattern of decline that dates back to 2007.

In that year, 75 percent of the students didn’t pass ISTEP. The district, under a former superintendent, closed the school in 2009 as ISTEP scores plummeted again, when 82 percent failed.

Fending off competition from charters, the district reopened the school in 2012, this time christening it the Dunbar-Pulaski Academic and Career Academy.

The name change didn’t translate to academics. In 2013, 86 percent failed the ISTEP exam.

Pruitt initially wanted to close Dunbar-Pulaski, but changed her mind at a May 31 school board meeting.

The school board, instead, opted to close the Lew Wallace STEM Academy, the lone high school in Glen Park.

The federal government had poured about $6 million in school improvement grant money in Lew Wallace over the past three years. Its test scores were on an upward trajectory, but not enough to escape state intervention as it was in the final year of academic probation, along with Dunbar-Pulaski.

The last-minute change meant there was no public input taken on the Lew Wallace closing.

The state has asked for minutes from school board meetings in which school closings were discussed.

Mired in a $27.3 budget hole and looking at half-empty schools, the school board opted to close five schools in June, an unpopular move among parents who criticized the lack of notice they received.

About 2,000 students were displaced by the closings and routed to new district schools, mostly away from their neighborhoods.

The closings also left the district more vulnerable to losing students to charters and private schools, like the Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary, which leads the state in voucher students.

Pruitt has set a strategic plan effort in motion, asking Indiana University Northwest professor Rochelle Brock to lead it. The group is supposed to offer up a five-year plan at a board meeting this month.

“What we have now are broad goals,” said Brock who heads IUN’s Urban Teacher Education Program.

Others say they feel out of the loop on the district’s problems at Dunbar-Pulaski and the state’s possible intervention.

“I think I speak for all the legislators in Gary, that the state hasn’t included us in the process, nor has the school superintendent,” said state Rep. Vernon Smith, a Gary Democrat and educator.

“There was word that some parents wanted Lew Wallace to stay open. The bottom line is we’re ill-informed,” said Smith, a member of the House Education Committee. “I think they have good intentions, but some decisions have had repercussions. If they don’t do a better job of planning, we’ll find ourselves in this situation over and over again.”



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