Gary wants time to boost middle school’s scores
By Carole Carlson email@example.com August 11, 2014 10:08PM
David L. King, a past student of Dunbar Pulaski Middle School, speaks during a public hearing on a failing Dunbar Pulaski Middle School in Gary, IN. | John Smierciak/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 13, 2014 6:33AM
GARY — An overwhelming majority of speakers told state officials Monday night that the city school district can manage its own turnaround plan for troubled Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School.
Because the school has been on academic probation for five straight years, the state was required by law to hold Monday’s public hearing.
A decision on the school’s future isn’t expected until after statewide school grades are released in October, said Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction. She said testimony from the hearing will be delivered to the state board of education, which will make the decision.
Even though the school closed in 2008 and reopened three years later, its academic progress clock kept ticking, despite a new infusion of staff and students.
A steady parade of 33 speakers — including parents, residents, school district employees and a couple of students — urged state officials to let the school district revise the plan for the school. The accountability law offers five state intervention options, including a state takeover.
In 2011, speakers also supported “Option 5,” or allowing the district to revise its school turnaround plan, regarding Roosevelt High School. Instead, the state moved to remove Roosevelt from district control and turned it over to a private operator.
Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt suggested that $1.5 million in federal school improvement money be routed to Dunbar-Pulaski to assist the district’s turnaround plan. In ISTEP Plus scores released last week, just 15.6 percent of Dunbar-Pulaski students passed both the math and English sections.
Since the school year ended in June, the principal and 50 percent of the teaching staff have been relocated. Vera Blount is the new principal at the school, newly renamed Gary Middle School.
“All I feel is needed is support and additional intervention,” Pruitt said, adding that the middle school will follow a “rigorous and relevant” curriculum to prepare students for the future.
Its core enrollment base is expected to change, she said, with the addition of students from West Side and the closed Lew Wallace STEM Academy. Pruitt said about 800 students are expected when school begins Aug. 20.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, was the most emphatic of the speakers Monday night. Rogers was one of the sponsors of the accountability law in 1999.
“I’ve never been more proud of my district as I am tonight. I think basically what we’re saying here in the vernacular of young people is ‘we got this,’” she said.
Rogers said state money allocated to traditional public schools in 1999 was much more than it is today. She supported the vision laid out by Pruitt.
“I have full faith in what they’ve said today and what they can do. I expect as a state senator for you to have heard those messages and act accordingly,” she said.
Other state intervention options include merging with a successful school, assigning a private management team, following Indiana Department of Education recommendations and guidelines or closing the school.
David King Jr., who recently graduated from Dunbar-Pulaski, said teachers at the school turned his life around and encouraged him to change his attitude toward his studies.
“Not only did they teach me about state standards, they taught me about life,” he said.
Jacqueline Lee said Pruitt and the school board can improve Dunbar-Pulaski, and “we don’t need anyone to come in and take over our community. We can fix what we broke.”
Rochelle Brock, director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at Indiana University Northwest, pledged support in teacher development.
Joe Zimmerman, president of the Gary Teachers Union, said the school district is on the right path under Pruitt’s leadership.
“We can do this as a staff and as a community,” he said.