By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
A Schererville resident with a track record for turning around schools was appointed on July 31 as the new emergency manager of Gary Schools, capping months of speculation and concerns about the city’s troubled school district.
During a meeting live-streamed on its website, the four-member Distressed Unit Appeal Board appointed Dr. Peggy Hinckley to the top position, giving her full financial and academic authority over the future of Gary Schools.
While Hinckley will serve as the emergency manager, MGT Consulting of Tallahassee, FL will manage the Gary Community School Corp. MGT was chosen out of seven firms that were competing for the two-year contract.
The appointments have created an awkward situation for Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and Gary school board members have been stripped of authority after years of controversy and accusations of financial mismanagement. Now, they must support Hinckley, 65, a retired educator and highly-distinguished school superintendent who won praise for saving several Indiana school districts from financial and academic ruin.
There were concerns among school officials and Black leaders that the emergency manager would lack the knowledge and wisdom to make sound decisions for Gary schools.
One Black leader, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Hinckley was not the best choice and believes Gary native, Brandon Comer and his Comer Capital Group, weren’t selected because there were concerns that they would not be a tough as Hinckley and MGT.
But, other leaders are happy with Hinckley.
“I’m feeling optimistic,” said State Senator Eddie Melton. “I’m glad we were able to make this appointment this week. This is an opportunity for the district to make a fresh start. It doesn’t concern me that she’s from Schererville. It’s a bonus that she was raised in Gary and went to high school here.”
The decision also won praise from school board president, Rosie Washington, and Gary Teachers Union president, GlenEva Dunham.
According to her website, Hinckley earn-
ed her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University and her master’s degree in elementary education from Purdue University Calumet. She holds a specialist degree in education administration from Indiana State University and a doctorate in leadership and policy studies from Loyola University of Chicago.
In addition to serving as professor at Indiana University South Bend, Hinckley has taught in Hobart Township Schools and River Forest Community Schools in New Chicago, IN. She has also served as superintendent in those school districts. Additionally, Hinckley was interim superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.
During her 11 years as superintendent of Warren Township school district, Hinckley reduced the general fund deficit by more than $6 million while increasing academic performance.
While interim superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, Hinckley reduced nearly $10 million in costs by consolidating staff positions, adopting operating efficiencies and reducing staff. She is credited with initiating a partnership with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, which led to an extensive review of major central service functions with recommendations for improved functionality.
For her work, Hinckley has won numerous awards. In 1995, she was named Indiana Superintendent of the Year. In 2012, she was given the same honor by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents District V.
Hinckley’s track record and accolades impressed members of the DUAB.
“For me, there was something unique about having this emergency manager as a superintendent and actually owning that academic vision,” said Commissioner Courtney Schaafsma.
With just over two weeks left before the new school year begins, Hinckley is wasting no time in her plans to restore the financial and academic health of a school system that has been declining for years. With over $100 million in debt and an ‘F’ grade, the district is deep in financial and academic trouble. Declining property tax revenues have forced the district to close dozens of schools as student enrollment dwindled.
Hinckley has already met with Pruitt to define the roles of the staff.
The new school year in Gary begins on Aug. 17.