Superintendent prepares for return with plans to recapture school district

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Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt

Op-Ed

By Dr. Cheryl L. Pruitt

The Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) is leading the way once again in creating pathways for public education. Our intentional efforts remain aggressive, while we continue to improve all areas of service. We are transforming the district into an excellent learning environment for all students. Our goal is to release students into the world who are college and career ready. We believe that educating our students is vital to the sustainability and growth of the community. We care about each student and show it by giving our best as educators, regardless of our job description, and in the midst of challenging financial times.

GCSC stands ready to assist in rectifying the issues around public education for the state of Indiana. We will create best practices that can expand across the United States for public education to once again be one of the greatest opportunities in our country.

So, what does that mean for Gary Community Schools? First, it’s time for you to take your seat at the table. This is an important table for it is the table responsible for the growth or neglect of our children. We promise to make you feel welcome. It’s important to know what’s going on. We’ve had to make some tough but necessary decisions to save our schools. But against all odds I still see brighter days ahead.

Transparent communications is key. Its purpose is to help you understand the scope of what we’re facing because together we can embrace this challenge as an opportunity to rise. Our children are counting on us. In 2012 at the District’s Opening Convocation, I reported that it had taken time to get to where we were and it would not be easy nor would restructuring the district happen overnight. I was transparent at that time presenting factual information about GCSC finances and academics.

Here’s where we are today.

The Gary Community School Corporation is operating at a deficit of more than $100 million, enrollment has declined, some schools have been closed, and there has been a reduction in staff.

Here’s where we’re going.

If Senate Bill 567 passes, we’re getting some additional help. That means the State will appoint an Emergency Financial Manager to oversee all aspects of the district’s budget and academics in an effort to make it solvent. In addition, a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Academic Officer will be brought on board. I welcome the collaboration with the State. However let’s not forget the accomplishments our district continues to experience.

During the last four years the Gary Community School Corporation has managed to obtain a soaring graduation rate. Wirt-Emerson graduated nearly 100 percent of its students for the past three years with West Side Leadership Academy graduating nearly 90 percent of its students. This past year our overall graduation rate is the highest it has been in 10 years, 85.9 percent as opposed to 51.4 percent in 2007. There was a 25.4 percent increase in graduation rates from 2012 to 2014 and the children have not looked back. We have witnessed a steady upward movement in graduation rates and a decline in dropouts since 2012. Wirt- Emerson is recognized nationally by US News and World Report as a top performing arts center.

And we’ve also graduated Bill Gates Millennium Scholars. Those students will receive full scholarships from their bachelor’s to a doctorate’s program in their field of study. Due to the overhaul in our Special Education Department, the district made history in graduating a special needs senior as salutatorian fluently speaking five languages.

The Frankie Woods McCullough Academy for Girls continues to outperform the average on state-mandated tests such as ISTEP. Dr. Bernard C. Watson Academy for Boys along with some of our other elementary schools are making 100 percent passing scores on I-Read. Over the past five years suspensions and expulsions have decreased tremendously and School Safety Officers are helping us bridge the gap between students, parents, faculty and staff.

But it doesn’t stop there. This year we have one of the best female basketball players in the country according to ESPN and our athletic teams compete and win against some of the state’s toughest opponents. Less I mention our 2014 West Side State Champion track team – first time in 34 years, since 1980. Our district has a partnership with China and now we have four sister schools. Many of our teachers have been recognized as outstanding educators as well.

We are making history and will continue to make history. I see GCSC having the opportunity for public systems across the state and nation to visit GCSC once again during these times.

That’s why transparent communication is key. In addition to our challenges, there’s a lot of good news to share. We’ll do our part to make sure that you’re informed. We need you to help us get the word out about the positive things happening in our classrooms every school day.

Our leadership team including Dr. Cordia Moore is doing an excellent job as I continue to recover. I look forward to returning later this month ready to work so that we can finish the school year strong. Soon you will be hearing about upcoming meetings where I will discuss GCSC plans and answer questions. We’ll talk about finances, closed schools, transportation and more. You’ll also have an opportunity to get your questions answered and be a part of the transformation. Come with your comments, suggestions, and concerns.

As Superintendent of Schools – I will not give up on our children or my community. I have dedicated my life to working for and serving children and have a vested interest in the success of public education in our city.

Dr. Cheryl L. Pruitt is Superintendent of the Gary Community School Corporation. Reach her at (219) 886-6400. Like GCSC on Facebook and visit the GCSC website at garycsc.k12.in.us for the latest news in Gary Community Schools.

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