EAST CHICAGO | A university search team including members from Purdue, Indiana, Indiana State and Ball State universities has been hired to look for a new East Chicago school superintendent.
East Chicago School Board President Jesse Gomez said the board voted on the plan at its Dec. 12 meeting, and hopes to have someone in place by July 1.
Gomez said it's been a busy year for the nine newly elected school board members who took office in January.
The previous superintendent, Michael Harding, 63, who was hired in August 2009, took a family medical leave in July, then retired in October after a week back on the job. Harding was first replaced by interim Superintendent William "Bill" Gall, who served the district from July to September. Then, retired East Chicago school administrator Mary Dywan took over as interim superintendent and remains in place.
Gomez said the university search team will have a research-based approach to the work. It will conduct interviews and focus groups to understand the needs of the district and align those needs with the strongest candidate. "It's going to be a process of about four or five months," he said.
The university search team includes James Freeland, clinical assistant professor, Department of Educational Studies at Purdue University; Concetta Raimondi, clinical assistant professor, School of Education at Indiana University; Terry McDaniel, associate professor, Bayh School of Education at Indiana State University; and Lynn E. Lehman, assistant professor, Department of Educational Leadership at Ball State University. Freeland is the team leader.
In addition, the district is facing a deficit of between $2 million and $4 million, Gomez said. He said it was caused by a combination of many things including the loss of students to vouchers and charter schools. A voucher, also called Indiana Choice Scholarship, allows a student to use public dollars to attend a private school.
Gomez said new School Treasurer Katie Dowling is "making some inroads" by moving some things around and into the general fund.
"We went through a lot this first year in office," Gomez said. "It was really tough, but I think we have come out of it OK. We did as much as we could this first year in office to make some changes. The staff seems to be better. The morale of teachers, students and parents seems to be better. We've done a lot to change the culture. We hope to build on that in year two."
Gomez also is pleased that four of the elementary schools earned an A from the Indiana Department of Education for 2013. Those schools were Benjamin Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, McKinley and George Washington elementary schools. McKinley moved to an A from a D, and Washington moved to an A from an F. Central High School in East Chicago earned a D for the second year in a row. In the past, the high school was on probation and had been in danger of being taken over by the state.
Gomez said a new administrative staff at the high school includes Lydia Jagger as principal. He said the longtime school employee is doing a "great job" and not everything can be accomplished in a year, but the district is looking forward to improvement at the high school under Jagger.
John Zarlengo, president of the East Chicago Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 511, also believes it's been a busy school year.
"The vouchers really hurt the public school system," he said. "It hurt East Chicago in particular. Private schools don't take students who act up, students with serious problems or students with serious special education needs. All public schools have to accept those students. I'm also glad to see the district hire a search team. I think that takes the politics out of it."