Gary, other cities target education initiatives

2014-03-10T18:09:00Z 2014-03-11T13:15:12Z Gary, other cities target education initiativesCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

GARY | Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is one of 14 mayors across the country who will partner with the National League of Cities and the U.S. Department of Education to hold a “community conversation” to discuss strategies to advance learning, student engagement and improve schools.

The “memorandum of understanding” was signed Monday in Washington, D.C., during the annual League of Cities meeting. It outlines three goals for cities to focus on: early childhood education, afterschool activities and graduating from high school.

Freeman-Wilson said this is a great opportunity for Gary to discuss an issue that is paramount to the city's future viability.

"Many young people are concerned with basic issues such as food, clothing and shelter. This fact makes it difficult to focus on the demands of school, and we have to provide extra support to the children and educators to ensure the achievement of our students," she said.

Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said early learning is so vital the district has invested millions of dollars in its program at the Mary M. Bethune Early Childhood Learning Center, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Bethune houses three developmental programs: magnet, regular and special needs. At the 3- and 4-year-old stage, Pruitt said it's also important children learn social skills, cooperating with others and operating in a structured environment.

"All these variables are important to closing the achievement gap," she said.

As a former principal of Bethune, Pruitt said readiness is vital to students' future success.

Bethune currently has an enrollment of about 480 students and a waiting list of nearly 300. Bethune Principal Ava Ligon said kindergarten is more advanced than ever and youngsters are expected to be able to master more in English/language arts and math skills than ever before.

Freeman-Wilson said the city will host a community conversation about creating a network of support for Gary's K-12 educational system. This will include afterschool, mentoring and summer programs and other efforts that can enhance a student’s ability to do well in school. That meeting could be held in April, officials said.

They also said other local leaders will be part of the conversation, including Merrillville-based Geminus Corp., which operates 27 Head Start programs in Lake and Porter counties for children who are at least 3 years old.

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