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Banneker Achievement Center may become Gary's new middle school

Peggy Hinckley, emergency manager for the Gary Community School Corp., speaks Friday at a meeting of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board in Indianapolis about her plan to re-establish a middle school in Gary.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — The Gary Community School Corp. once again will have a dedicated middle school after the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board on Friday approved new grade configurations recommended by the district's emergency manager.

Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, all Gary students in grades 6 through 8 will attend the same school, rather than going to classes in a building with either elementary students or high school students.

Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley said the restructuring will allow the district to offer more courses geared toward middle school students, as well as sports, arts and other co-curricular programs that generally are not now available in most Gary schools.

The change also means that going forward Gary's elementary schools will serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade, while West Side Leadership Academy will educate students in grades 9 through 12.

Hinckley said no final decision has yet been made on which building will house the middle school.

Initially she suggested Bailly Preparatory Academy would become the middle school. But after getting feedback from community leaders, she now believes the Benjamin Banneker Achievement Center is better suited to serve middle school students.

She said not only is the Banneker building in better physical shape than Bailly, but Banneker also is handicap accessible — a necessary feature since there's going to be only one middle school option.

It's also located in the city's Miller neighborhood, about a mile from the soon-to-be shuttered Wirt-Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts, which should ease the transition for the middle school students currently attending Wirt-Emerson and signal that the school district does not intend to abandon the lakefront neighborhood.

At the same time, Hinckley said she doesn't want the district to lose the elementary students who attend Banneker because of the school's rigorous academic program or its popular principal, Sarah Givens.

So she said the plan is to take the Banneker program, and Givens, and reinstall them in the nearby Jacques Marquette Elementary School, which then will operate with a mix of gifted and standard classrooms.

Hinckley expects some work still will be required to balance the distribution of elementary school students, but she said the overriding goal is to meet the expectations of parents while most effectively using the limited financial resources available to the district.

"Parents are going to choose with their feet," Hinckley said. "So if we don't listen to them, we are going to lose."

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.