MERRILLVILLE | Perhaps outgoing Merrillville schools Superintendent Tony Lux's most outstanding quality over his nearly 30-year career was how he faced the challenges of a changing school district and community, managed to maintain good test scores and fostered harmony and friendship among an increasingly diverse student body.
As Merrillville's population has transformed the past three decades to include a black majority, so has the school district changed, with minority students now comprising the majority, which Lux said required him to focus on the district's diversity and embrace it.
Lux is retiring from Merrillville Community School Corp.on June 30 after 29 years with the district. He served the first 10 years as assistant superintendent to former Superintendent Robert Shrenker and the past 19 years as superintendent.
Over that time, Lux worked to develop a respectful, successful relationship with the school Board of Trustees, teachers and administrators. He knew the names of many students and their parents.
Under his leadership, Merrillville's school district has become one of the most diverse school corporations in the state, a so-called minority-majority school corporation, while also maintaining high academic standards.
Lux said the 2012 ISTEP-Plus passing percentage for students in grades three through eight combined are the highest in the history of state testing at the school looking back 20 years.
Merrillville High School is the only large minority-majority high school in the state that received an A grade with a 90-percent graduation rate. The high school also has been identified as a model school. Other Merrillville schools that earned an A from the Indiana Department of Education are Salk Elementary and Miller Elementary schools.
Salk Elementary also was selected as the Indiana Title I High Achievement for 2011 school and has been nominated as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2013.
Merrillville High School and Salk Elementary were recognized by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. The organization commended the schools last month for successfully preparing young men of color for the future.
Making a success of diversity
Lux remembers a time when there was a racial incident at the school soon after he took office. There was a community meeting following the incident in 1994, and Lux said the district had to look at what path it was going to take.
"We had a conversation about what people wanted for their kids," he said of the public meeting. "Everyone wanted the same thing — a good environment for their children and a good education," he said.
"We went through years of training with our teachers and administrators to understand different values and cultures," he said, sitting in his office for an interview. "Over the years, it became our strength rather than our disadvantage."
Lux said he has welcomed the chance to address the issue of race at public meetings with community groups throughout Northwest Indiana.
"When race is involved, people have a tendency of making generalizations and stereotypes, but our kids graduate and go to Big 10 schools and Ivy League schools, and they do well," he said.
While Lux said the district does not have problems with graffiti, gangs and racial strife, he said it does deal with serious issues that crop up in the community and carry over into the school day.
All eight of Merrillville's schools have been renovated to provide up-to-date energy efficiency and learning environments with state-of-the-art technology.
Another example of the district's success is the 115 people who applied for a handful of administrative openings, Lux said.
Lux said the next generation of leaders now taking over at the school will be under the leadership of longtime Assistant Superintendent Mark Sperling, who becomes the new Merrillville school superintendent July 1.
Lux said he has no regrets as he leaves office.
"It's been a dream career for me," he said. "I am proud of the staff and what we have accomplished here. The only regret is not being able to stem the tide of people moving out of town. You want to see Northwest Indiana overcome those fears of diversity. It's going to happen in every community."
For his outstanding efforts in the school corporation, his ability to speak out in a frank, supportive way about school issues to leaders in Indianapolis and all his other accomplishments, Lux was presented the Sagamore of the Wabash award last week during a party in his honor. Local legislators also named him an honorary member of the Indiana House of Representatives.
"It was very humbling," he said. "The success of the school system begins with the School Board. The board members don't have personal agendas. They approved policies and direction for the school district, and administrators implemented those policies. This district focuses on the four R's — rigor, relevance, relationships and resilience."