By Giavonni Nickson
Three Gary School Board members on Tuesday, December 11, resigned at The Gary Community School Corporation’s final board of trustees meeting of the year.
Board President Nellie Moore was one of three board members with terms ending in 2018. According to state law, the three board members were allowed to resign or retain their seats on the board for another four-year term because no one else filed to fill the open seats.
Moore, along with board members Darling Pleasant and Mary Felton, decided not to file for re-election. They each submitted formal resignations during Tuesday’s meeting.
Moore, a 12-year member of the board, said after a 65-year career in public education she is stepping aside with confidence in the new leadership.
The remaining board members elected new officers Tuesday night. Robert L. Buggs was elected president. Carlos Tolliver was nominated vice president. Tolliver was not present. His nomination is pending acceptance. Norman Bailey was re-elected secretary.
During her farewell speech, Moore addressed the known challenges the community schools face. Staff changes, along with school closings and combinings have all impacted student learning. There have been disparities in funding by the state, accusations of mismanaged funds, and staff reductions to keep up with eroding revenues.
With confidence in the new leadership, Moore said, “Gary will defy the odds and return to the position of prominence and respect in the educational arena.”
President-Elect Robert L. Buggs acknowledged the challenges the community schools face and outlined his goals for the upcoming year. “We are in a unique situation. I was elected to speak out for the children and the welfare of the school corporation and community. My number one priority is to fight and advocate for Bethune School to stay open, advocate for teacher and staff pay increases, and improve conditions within the schools.”
Nellie Moore agreed with the support of Bethune Early Learning Center. “Bethune Early Learning Center defies the odds by educating students with special needs.”
Regarding pay increases for teachers and staff, there have been no salary increases over the past 12 years. Chief Academic Officer Terrance Little discussed plans for teacher and staff salary increases during his Gary Community School Corporation 2018 report.
Gary Community School Corporation Emergency Manager Dr. Pete Morikis stated, “All employees need some form of pay increase to account for the rising cost of living. The staff and teachers have been dedicated and committed with a true desire to improve the lives of the students.”
In November 2018, Morikis, former Griffith Public Schools Superintendent, was introduced as Peggy Hinckley’s successor to lead the Gary school district. Hinckley, a veteran Region educator, retired after leading the emergency management team during its first 16 months under state control.
Dr. Morikis received the support of the board one month into his new role.
President-Elect Robert L Buggs said, “I am going to support Dr. Morikis one hundred percent. He has already started off addressing some concerns by listening to the parents, listening to the board members, and having public forums where the parents can ask questions and receive answers.”
Nellie Moore believes Dr. Morik- is can reframe the problems with the academic system and work toward resolutions.
Morikis provided a report on what has taken place so far within his first month as leader of the emergency management team. The team has listened to parents during public forums and conducted meetings with teachers, staff, and employee groups. Some of the consistent concerns expressed by teachers and parents are about the overcrowding in the middle schools. Student-teacher ratios of 35:1 and 40:1 force teachers to focus on crowd control.
Chief Academic Officer Terrance Little addressed the challenges presented by overcrowding during his 2018 report. He is focused on improving the effectiveness of teachers by decreasing student-teacher ratios to 20:1. In addition to helping teachers be more effective in the classroom, this focus will enrich the learning experience for the students. Increasing the number of tutors is another proposed initiative aimed to provide the academic support students need.
When asked about his optimism and outlook for 2019 Little said, “All activities and initiatives are student-led which means the needs of the students come first as our top priority.” This outlook aligns with the focus of the Gary Community School Corporation.
Morikis also expressed an optimistic outlook for 2019. “We are moving in a positive direction for the upcoming year. We are listening to the concerns of the community and the parents. There will be more communication between us in 2019. Failure is no longer an option.”
The elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp. serve solely in an advisory capacity to the Emergency Manager, Dr. Pete Morikis. The board conducts four public meetings each year. Morik- is must hold monthly public forums to keep Gary residents informed about things happening in their school corporation.
The next Gary School Board public meeting will be Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at 6 p.m. at the Gary Area Career Center. Community members are encouraged to attend, be proactive, and take part in the solution to improve the community schools with the focus outlined in the Gary Community School Corporation’s motto: “Doing what is best for the students, today, tomorrow, every day.”