EDITORIAL: State must turn around troubled schools

2014-03-24T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: State must turn around troubled schools nwitimes.com
March 24, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The Indiana Department of Education is stepping in at Gary Community School Corp., labeling it a high-risk district. That could allow the state to take control of the district's federal funds, including determining how they're spent.

Clearly, Gary's schools are in trouble. Of the 16 public schools, 13 were graded D or F under the state's accountability law. That has to change, and hopefully the state's involvement will be a positive influence.

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt explained to the Gary School Board this is not a state takeover of the school district.

"This will be a partnership, a collaborative effort," Pruitt said. "The state superintendent said she has no intention of taking over schools."

Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's style is a radical change from the aggressive changes favored by her predecessor, Tony Bennett. Under Bennett's direction, the state seized control of Roosevelt school in Gary and brought in a turnaround specialist.

Yielding control over federal funding means getting additional state assistance, and Gary's schools can use that help.

Out of 7,800 students in the school district, 80 percent received free or reduced-price lunches. The district also has a high number of single-parent families and the highest mobility rate in the state — meaning families don't stay in one place long enough to establish deep roots.

The district has financial troubles, too, with a property tax collection rate of 42 percent, combined with tax caps and other restrictions.

Gary's school district needs help.

"We have to be as transparent as possible in assessing where we are as a district and what is needed to ensure a high-quality education for our students in Gary. It takes courage to face the truth," Pruitt said. "Sometimes it feels like a negative, but this will give us an opportunity for additional support."

Gary isn't the only local school district with a number of troubled schools. Of School City of Hammond's 20 schools, 15 were rated D or F under the state's accountability law.

We hope the state will be equally eager to help other troubled districts, not just Gary.

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