Crusader staff report
Gary schools opened its doors to begin the new school year on Thursday, August 17, but the Watson Academy for Boys remains closed.
In her first week on the job, new emergency manager Peggy Hinckley closed the school at 2065 Mississippi St.
It’s Hinckley’s first big decision since she was appointed emergency manager July 31. And with the district’s heavy debt load, more cuts may come as a new era in the district begins.
Like many shuttered Gary schools, Watson suffered from dwindling enrollment and an underutilized building.
At a recent school board meeting, Hinckley said “It’s hard to run a school efficiently with 128 students.” Hinckley said to keep Watson open would have required the consolidation of grades that would have been a heavy burden on teachers.
According to Hinckley, Watson parents were notified of the closing and said students can attend nearby Williams Elementary or at Bailly. Hinckley also said that Watson Principal Maceo Rainey would be reassigned.
The Gary school district has over $100 million in debt. While Hinckley holds full academic and financial control of the district, her biggest challenge is to significantly reduce the debt load while increasing academic achievement among the districts 5,500 students. Gary School Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and school board members do not have a say in Hinckley’s decisions.
Hinckley said most of the 44 teachers laid off earlier this summer have been called back because of retirements and resignations. In addition to closing Watson, Hinckley named Marie Adkins as acting federal programs director and hired a new special education director from Illinois.
A team of retired principals Hinckley brought in serves as consultants to help administrators and teachers prepare for the first day of school.