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Hammond names principals for high school transition; plans to seek input in school branding
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Hammond names principals for high school transition; plans to seek input in school branding

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School Board meeting on high school consolidation

Members of the Hammond school board listen to comments from members of the community Nov. 20 before voting to consolidate high schools in the 2021-22 school year.

HAMMOND — Consolidation pains rang out in Hammond on Tuesday night as the Region's largest school district prepares to shutter two of its four high schools in the 2021-22 school year.

The Hammond school board met for more than two hours in a well-attended school board meeting Tuesday night in the School City of Hammond administration center.

The Hammond school board voted in November on Superintendent Scott Miller's recommendations to close Clark and Gavit middle-high schools with the opening of the district's new school building currently under construction behind Hammond High School.

The Hammond High building, more than 100 years old, will be demolished upon completion of the new school. Most Clark, Hammond and about 250 Gavit high schoolers will feed into the district's new school, which has yet to be named, according to a plan presented to the community last fall. Remaining Gavit students will join Morton High School students when consolidation takes full effect.

Hammond schools celebrate milestone in new secondary school project

Leadership shake-up

School city administration put forth recommendations Tuesday night naming current Gavit principal Michelle Ondas as Morton High School principal and current Clark principal David Verta as principal of the new school when consolidation takes effect in the 2021-22 school year.

Lauren Dado, currently assistant principal at Clark, would move into the Hammond Area Career Center principal role vacated when Miller, the career center's former principal, became superintendent in April. Miller recommended the three administrators receive a stipend, which is yet to be determined, in addition to their regular salary schedule to compensate the additional work ushering through the school transition.

The board approved the recommendations in a 4-1 vote with vice president Carlotta Blake-King dissenting.

Miller said he brought the recommendations nearly a year and a half before consolidation takes effect to give the incoming principals time and clarity in working to overseeing students' transition to their new schools and to take part in training for the district's implementation of a new, New Tech Network curriculum, similar to what is being taught in nearby Lake Ridge New Tech Schools.

He said timing of the recommendations, which will bring downsizing at the administrative level, also allows non-returning school leaders advance notice for seeking new opportunities.   

"There's a lot to do between now and when the schools open, and we want people to start working on it now," Miller said, referencing lessons learned when closing three primary schools last school year. "The board approved closing in those schools in May and we didn’t have enough time."

'You lied to us': Clark, Gavit schools to close, parents react
Hammond board votes to shutter three schools this summer; more than 130 positions to be cut in coming reductions
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No explanation was given publicly for placement of current Hammond High principal Johnny Goodlow and Morton principal Greg Easton.

The school city is also searching for a new assistant superintendent after the district posted notice earlier this month that its current assistant superintendent for academic services will retire after the end of this school year. 

Miller said the school city intends to interview candidates through the rest of this week with hopes of naming a new assistant superintendent this spring.

The Hammond board quickly shut down criticism during the Tuesday night meeting's public comment period challenging qualifications of staff being retained through the consolidation citing board policy not discuss specific personnel matters publicly. 

Though, that didn't stop some for speaking up and asking why the board had not decided to promote an African-American school leader. 

"I'm ashamed of this board. I thought it was going to be different," said Wilma Reed, a retired Hammond teacher referencing promises she said were made to promote diversity within the district. " I sit here today and do not see that reflected in the principals of the schools."

All three administrators retained in Monday night's vote expressed gratitude and excitement to take on their new roles in the district.

"I'm excited about the future. I'm excited about the opportunity to come together as one true, supportive community," Verta said. "I'm excited about working with community members to ensure the transition for all students, staff and families is one of respect and inclusiveness."

Branding Hammond's high schools

Blake-King brought forward a debated motion in the Tuesday night meeting to name the new high school after former longtime Hammond superintendent Walter Watkins who died in December.

She said she brought the motion, which failed with no other school board member supporting it, after representatives of Watkins' family brought a naming suggestion to the board in the district's last board meeting on Feb. 4.

The board tabled the discussion earlier this month amid debate a motion at that time would not include community input from students and other community members.

Hammond's Walter Watkins remembered as transformative school leader

Several offered suggestions Monday night for naming, including keeping the Hammond High name, using Watkins' name and maintaining Morton's name and mascot as is.

"It's not about a name, it's about the process," said Clark parent Celina Garcia. "Our students are what we need to start worrying about."

The school city will move forward with plans to seek public input on naming and branding for both the new school and Morton.

Miller invited a committee of 60 stakeholders, including eight students representing each existing Hammond high school, to meet with a representative from school branding and product provider, Jostens, to brainstorm questions to pose in a community-wide survey. Those questions could seek input on possible school names, logos, colors, mottoes and mascots.

"My strong commitment is to having everyone come together," Miller said. "When you name something, you take ownership of it ... that’s what i want for our kids in this community."

Hammond Councilwoman Katrina Alexander spoke at the meeting and echoed several parents' calls to work to reunify Hammond's communities, both as the civil city and school city level, through the coming months of consolidation.

"You’re hearing fighting, let’s make sure you’re fighting for the right reasons," Alexander said. "Tomorrow, you have something you’re doing, the community will work with you." 

Attendance for Wednesday night's meeting is by invitation only. Miller said the district plans to livestream the afternoon meeting via it's YouTube channel and will post the video in full after. 

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