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Out with the same old same old, Gary tosses formalities

Photo caption: ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS Mike Suggs, left, and Vanessa Allen-McCloud, center, with Robert Lee, GCSC Athletic Director.

Balloons decorated tables and buffet lines welcomed guests to the Career Center for a recent “Meet and Greet” of the Gary Community School Corporation’s new Advisory Board.

Emergency Manager Mike Raisor said he wanted to try something new, instead of the usual setup of the board seated panel-style facing an audience seated in rows of chairs in the Career Center’s cafeteria.

After a brief introduction, Raisor and the board mingled with guests loosened up by finger foods, beverages, and desserts. “We can talk about anything you like,” Raisor encouraged.

The school district is still under state control and day-to-day management by MGT Consulting Group. Raisor, a MGT vice president, replaced Paige McNulty in May as the district’s new manager.

The new Advisory Board took office July 1. The five member board was appointed. Gary’s mayor and city council, each, had 1 selection. The mayor’s appointee, Akilia McCain had also served on the board when it was an elected position. Vanessa Allen-McCloud, executive director of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, is the city council’s appointee.

The remaining three members are appointees of the Indiana Secretary of Education. Advisory Board President is Michael Suggs, a former NIPSCO employee and former Thea Bowman Leadership Academy school board president. Danita Johnson, executive director of Edgewater Health and Attorney Shontrai Irving are the remaining state appointees.

Now that the district’s finances are in shape and state control is scheduled to end in July 2024, Raisor said the focus will be on academics.

Taking cues from 2023 ILearn and IREAD results that show low mastery of English/Language Arts, math, and reading skills for the district’s elementary and middle school students, Raisor said, “We are focusing on the science of reading to boost our IREAD scores.” IREAD assesses third grade students reading skills.

The “science of reading” includes a return to using phonics to teach reading, focusing on syllables — the building blocks of words. To form words and read, students must learn those syllables have sounds, spellings, and meanings.

In 2023, Indiana joined states nationwide that have passed legislation requiring schools to adopt the science of reading as part of their curriculum. Indiana’s law also requires teachers licensed after June 2025 to teach a content area involving literacy instruction in prekindergarten through fifth grade must earn a new literacy endorsement to prove they are proficient in the science of reading standards.

“For ILearn, we put together a task force of instructional coaches, teachers, and administrators to attack this as a district,” Raisor said. “When you have 5 elementary schools like we do, that’s a good number to work together. That’s what we’ll do this year, work together.” ILearn is an assessment of grades 3 through 8 on English/Language Arts, math, science, and social studies. The district’s 5 elementary and 2 middle schools were tested.

There were some great things and bumps at some schools, Raisor said, that could be implemented across the district. “For too long, we let individual schools do their own thing.”

Now that the district has a school board, academics will be on the agenda at each public monthly meeting, starting in September. At those meetings, Raisor said, “We’ll go in depth on our work in classroom instruction and curriculum.”

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