Gary’s new school chief vows special ed changes
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 June 4, 2012 8:12PM
Gary's new Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Cheryl Pruitt listens to the School Board make comments regarding her new position with the school system during the special board meeting in Gary, IN on June 1, 2012. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media
GARY — The city’s new school chief told the state’s top educator Monday there will be changes in the way the Gary Community School Corp. deals with special education students.
State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Bennett and a team of key state officials met with the school board and newly-appointed Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt to outline special education problems in the district.
“I understand special education and federal law,” said Pruitt. “You will see some changes.”
No other district in the state has as many non-compliant issues as Gary does, said Nicole Norvell, director of special education for the Indiana Department of Education.
Bennett outlined a timeline of non-compliance issues dating back to 2007.
They include a high rate of expulsion and suspension of special education students, poor recordkeeping, failure to notify parents of changes in individual education plans, and a failure to integrate special education students into general classrooms or least restrictive environments.
“There’s a serious gravity to this,” Bennett told the school board. “We have to correct this.”
By law, the state has oversight over federal funding distributed to school districts for special education, he said. In recent months, funding has been delayed until the district has showed it’s in compliance with federal regulations.
Norvell said federal law calls for the corrections to be made within one year. “Gary is still struggling,” she said. “We are dealing with issues that are systemic, and are hard to correct.”
The state has asked the district to submit monthly action plans showing steps toward compliance. In almost every month, those plans had to be sent back, Norvell said.
Board member Barbara Leek voiced concern over a lack of oversight. “There’s an enormous need for accountability,” she said.
Acting Superintendent Edwyna Hord said the district is addressing the issues with a team of teachers, principals and parents to tackle the problems. She said the district’s rate of expulsions and suspensions has dropped dramatically.
Bennett did offer praise for the district for its improved relationship with EdisonLearning Inc., the turnaround manager for the Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
Last year, Bennett ordered a state takeover of Roosevelt after six straight years of poor student performance.
“As of late, we’ve seen a spirit of cooperation,” Bennett said.
Bennett also mentioned Gary schools have won three state improvement grants for the district to turn failing schools around. “We intend to help you rebuild Gary by rebuilding the Gary schools,” Bennett said.