EAST CHICAGO | The nine members of the city's first popularly elected School Board stood arm in arm Saturday onstage at the East Chicago Central High School auditorium after being sworn in to confront one of the most challenging jobs in the state.
Stacy Dixon-Winfield, Jesse Gomez, Terrence "Terry" Hill, Kenny "Coach" Monroe, Drake Morris, Mariecruz Sagrua Perez, Stephanie D. Ramos, Frank Rivera and Joel Rodriguez take over the reins of the School City of East Chicago at time when the city's schools have been declared failures by outgoing Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
Glenda Ritz, who defeated Bennett last fall and will take over the Indiana Department of Education, witnessed the historic day along with a crowd of more than 100 people. Ritz congratulated the new board members and declared a new day for Indiana education, too.
Ritz said she intends to avoid the oversimplication of branding a school corporation with a single letter grade.
"My hopes are to develop a new system based on true growth measures for students, move from pass-fail assessments and an artificial growth model on top of it to real growth measures, especially in the area of reading," she said.
History was made because city mayors named previous school boards. Current Mayor Anthony Copeland broke with tradition and lobbied the General Assembly to create an elected board, similar to those throughout the rest of the county. He, too, was on stage to shake hands with the nine men and women elected from among 24 candidates in the Nov. 6 general election.
The school district, which has an enrollment of about 5,500 and a budget of $17.1 million, faces the challenge of raising achievement levels for a student body in which a majority have been failing the Indiana ISTEP-Plus test and experiencing below-average graduation rates.
Dixon-Winfield is an East Chicago schools paraprofessional. Gomez is a former city councilman. Hill is a veteran community activist. Monroe is a former city parks director. Morris is a city basketball standout. Ramos and Segura Perez are longtime educators in Hammond schools. Frank Rivera is a member of the Indiana University Northwest School of Public and Environmental Affairs and former executive director of Workforce Development Services. Rodriguez is a former Gary economic development director.