GARY | A nationally recognized motivational speaker fired up Gary teachers Monday, telling them to bring perception and passion to the classroom.
Youth advocate Darrell "Coach D" Andrews was the keynote speaker for the Gary Community School Corp.'s annual back-to-school convocation. He has worked with school districts, non-profit organizations and state governments to help motivate students to be successful academically.
"You are a VIP, a very important person, in a student's life," Andrews told hundreds of teachers and staff at West Side Leadership Academy.
"Kids are not committed to programs but to people. Kids connect to individuals and the individual inspires them to do well," he said.
Andrews said a teacher inspires students to dream, and a student with a dream is inspired to do well.
"You are not just a teacher, but you are a dream-maker," he said as he walked back and forth across the stage.
Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, who showed a video of herself introducing her new administrative team, spoke at the end of the session.
New to the district, Pruitt welcomed Gary teachers back and introduced her 90-day entry plan, which includes evaluating programs and data, and reviewing technology, operations and support functions.
Pruitt, 48, a Gary native and 1981 Gary Roosevelt graduate, said she cries easily and was moved by other speakers' statements.
"It's good to be home," she said.
"The Gary schools are in the process of transformation," Pruitt said. "We have had cuts at the teachers' level, cuts in the central administration and there will continue to be cuts until we get a balanced budget. It's like there has been a dark cloud over the district. We must come together."
She encouraged Gary educators to do their best, saying teachers will have to "out-teach, out-do and out-perform. We have to take back what was taken from us -- Gary Roosevelt."
The state took over the high school last year after not meeting state standards for six consecutive years. The new school, Gary Roosevelt College and Career Academy, will be run for the next four years by Tennessee-based EdisonLearning.
Pruitt acknowledged school system problems, touching on transportation issues and special education. Pruitt said she met Friday in Indianapolis with Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
Pruitt said the Gary school system's special education department since 2007 has been out of compliance with state standards, and the state not only has withheld funding from the department but also has threatened to take over the department if it is not improved.
Pruitt introduced Marianne Fidishin as its new director, and said the state intends to send someone to work with the department daily. Pruitt also said nothing can be done without money, so she also will focus on the budget and funding.
Nikita White, the former executive director of business operations at the City Colleges of Chicago, is the new chief financial officer.
Tiffany Scott, a Marquette Elementary special education teacher, said she was motivated by what the speakers had to say.
"I love her," Scott said of the new superintendent.
"I agree with everything she said. I'm excited about the new school year," Scott said. "We need to make changes in the special education department. I'm ready."