HAMMOND | New initiatives implemented this fall by the School City of Hammond include a cultural diversity initiative, a JROTC program at Hammond High School, full-day kindergarten and a partnership between the Hammond Area Career Center and Vincennes University.
Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins said the district has a two-prong approach to its cultural diversity initiative, which includes hiring Texas-based motivational speaker Jimmy Cabrera, whose primary focus is working with communities about diversity issues. It also hired a consultant, Virtuoso Consulting, which will work primarily with staff members on diversity issues.
"We haven't done a demographic analysis this year but in the past we have been 65 percent minority and 35 percent majority," Watkins said. "Most of our minority population is Hispanic. We see a need to improve our outreach to the Hispanic community"
Watkins noted Cabrera was the keynote speaker at a back-to-school convocation, and will return regularly to speak on diversity issues.
Watkins said Virtuoso Consulting will bring in speakers and hold workshops for staff.
"This is a two-year project beginning in November, addressing ways to improve staff awareness when it comes to working with diverse student needs. The first year of the project will cost the district $50,000 and we've set aside funds for that," he said.
Watkins said this is the first time the district has offered full-day kindergarten. When the program was expanded to include all elementary school buildings, enrollment grew by about 30 percent, bringing the number of kindergartners to 1,067.
With 35 teachers retiring at the end of last school year, Watkins said they were able to hire 15 new teachers in addition to new aides.
The district revised school start and ending times because the transportation budget has been "severely" cut in the last three years, Watkins said. He said a 15 percent loss in revenue in that department was a result of the impact of the circuit-breaker and the decline in property tax revenue collection.
Hammond High becomes the first school in the district to begin a Junior ROTC program.
Principal Leslie Yanders said 120 students are enrolled in the program, and a total of 180 students will go through the program in the first year.
"That was one of the things that I wanted to establish when I first came here as principal," Yanders said. "We called and inquired every year until we got it. The students are really excited about it, and I think it's a perfect fit for our school."
Another initiative is the Hammond Area Career Center partnering with Vincennes University to allow students to earn dual credits, gaining a high school diploma and an associate degree through the university.