INDIANAPOLIS — A Gary native who previously led school districts in Hobart, LaPorte and Indianapolis was selected Monday as the emergency manager for the Gary Community School Corp.
Peggy Hinckley, of Schererville, will lead a team of financial and academic experts from the MGT Consulting Group in an effort to balance the Gary district's budget, reduce its more than $100 million debt burden and make improvements that attract more students.
The Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board voted 4-0 to pick Hinckley and MGT from a pool of seven emergency manager candidates to oversee the first-ever state takeover of an entire school district, as required by Senate Enrolled Act 567.
Hinckley will have near-total authority to implement academic and financial changes, renegotiate contracts and run Gary's schools as she sees fit, subject only to informal review by a local advisory board and DUAB oversight.
The elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp. and the district's superintendent will have no official say in decisions made by the emergency manager.
DUAB members said they were impressed by Hinckley's experience in Indiana education and school finance, as well as her plans to get "boots on the ground" immediately to begin transforming Gary schools before classes begin Aug. 17.
"Dr. Hinckley obviously has a proven track record of success. Her reputation is outstanding in the community," said Kent Hatcher of the Indiana Department of Education.
DUAB Chairman Micah Vincent, director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, said Hinckley rose to the top in his estimation because she plans to personally be in Gary's schools on a day-to-day basis.
Indeed, Hinckley had her takeover team pre-positioned at a Merrillville hotel in anticipation of being selected as emergency manager.
They held an final organizing meeting Monday night and she plans to lead some 8 to 10 people into the Gary district offices at 8 a.m. Tuesday to get to work, even before her contract with the state has been finalized.
"We presented to DUAB a T-17 (days) plan of what we had to focus on to get school started," Hinckley said. "There's a million questions that we've got to get our fingers on in 17 days so we have a flawless start."
She said the first order of business will be figuring out the gap between where the district is and where it needs to be on everything from payroll and teacher hires to lawn mowing, as well as communicating to the community that Gary schools are open for learning.
Her goal is to demonstrate academic improvement within one year in part by empowering principals and teachers to run their schools in ways that are known to produce positive results.
"We're really working hard to build a system of great schools," Hinckley said.
Hinckley, 65, knows Gary schools having grown up in the city's Brunswick neighborhood. While she moved with her family to Merrillville in fifth grade, Hinckley said she still considers herself a "Gary girl."
"This is my hometown," she said. "When you've had a career of running schools and then you see your hometown failing ... I had to step up.
"These are my children. Whenever I've gone into a community those children are my children, and they deserve better."
Hinckley's career began as a first- and fourth-grade teacher in Hobart's River Forest Community School Corp. where she rose through the ranks to eventually become superintendent.
She later worked as superintendent at LaPorte Community School Corp., Warren Township Schools in Indianapolis and at the Indianapolis Public Schools before becoming an education consultant in 2009.