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Gary school district opening second middle school, will offer specialized courses at both

Peter Morikis, standing left, emergency manager at the Gary Community School Corp., speaks Thursday to members of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board in Indianapolis about his proposal to open a second middle school in Gary. The plan was approved unanimously.

INDIANAPOLIS — Parents in the Gary Community School Corp. will have a choice between two middle schools, each with dedicated programming, for their children in grades 6 through 8 to attend starting in August.

On Thursday, the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which acts in lieu of a locally-elected school board, unanimously approved a plan by the district's state-appointed emergency manager to establish a second middle school in Gary in response to parental requests.

The schools will be located in the current Gary Middle School, housed in the former Benjamin Banneker Achievement Center in the city's Miller neighborhood, and in the Bailly Preparatory Academy in the Glen Park neighborhood.

Middle school students initially will be assigned to one of the buildings based on their home address. But parents can request their child attend the other middle school if it is more suited to the student's academic interests.

Specifically, the Gary Middle School will be arts-focused with specialized classes in performance art, music and dance, while the middle school at Bailly will be a STEM academy, offering additional courses in science, technology, engineering and math.

Both schools also will have a standard middle school curriculum, as well as computer science programs, said Emergency Manager Peter Morikis.

Current elementary students at Bailly will be relocated to the nearby Glen Park Academy.

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"This gives us a middle school presence on the south end, in the Glen Park area of Gary, where there is no middle school presence," Morikis said. "It's user-friendly, it's customer service if you will."

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Morikis expects the specialized middle school programming will make Gary schools more competitive and help the district attract Gary students who might currently be attending a charter school, private school or are enrolled outside the city.

"We need to give our kids the same opportunities that exist in other communities and other districts," Morikis said.

The district has set a goal of enrolling 719 more students in all grades for the 2019-20 school year compared to the current 4,584 student count, which would increase state and federal funding for the cash-strapped district by more than $7 million.

Chelsea Whittington, a Gary public relations consultant and former city spokeswoman, is leading the 90-day enrollment push that will remind parents of current students why Gary schools are best, and highlight all the district's offerings to attract new students to the district.

"If you want to be Gary proud and Gary strong, then you need to take another look at the Gary schools," Whittington said.

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