HAMMOND — After announcing his preferred plan Tuesday night to close both Clark and Gavit middle/high schools, School City of Hammond Superintendent Scott Miller is looking to answer community questions in two public meetings.
The superintendent will meet with parents at 6 p.m. Thursday at Gavit Middle/High School and at 6 p.m. Monday at Clark Middle/High School.
Miller made his recommendations in a public work session Tuesday night following years of speculation that Northwest Indiana's largest school district, serving more than 12,000 students, might need to consolidate its four public high schools.
The school city currently operates two traditional high schools, two middle/high schools, two traditional middle schools and the Hammond Area Career Center.
Hammond's model of serving students among four high schools and a vocational school has been in place for decades, serving as many as 23,745 students in the 1969-70 school year, Miller said Tuesday night.
But, in recent years, the district has seen significant fiscal challenges as a result of declining enrollment and changes in statewide education funding.
Consolidation would bring equity in Hammond students' access to academic opportunities and facility conditions, Miller said Tuesday, with the potential for greater course offerings to be given among the district's two newest school buildings.
The superintendent said he also sees the consolidation as a way to bring new students into the district, which opened its enrollment over the summer.
"This is just better for our kids," the superintendent said. "Honestly, what we can offer them for college and career preparation, and just a wider, more broad education through our schools ... I believe both of those things, having a better quality academic offering and having better quality athletics and extracurriculars, will attract more students."
Changes would include moving sixth grade into the district's 12 neighborhood elementary schools, offering grades seven and eight in Eggers and Scott middle schools, and serving about 1,850 students in each of the district's two remaining high schools — Morton High School and a new school under construction behind the current Hammond High.
Transportation would be provided for any student relocated as a result of the changes, Hammond Director of Transportation Rhoderick Poats said Tuesday.
Any school closures likely would not come until the 2021-22 school year, when the new school on Calumet Avenue is expected to open. The 340,000-square-foot complex is expected to bring more than 60 classrooms, three gymnasiums and multiple performing arts spaces to the district, and is being funded through a tax increase supported by voters in a November 2017 referendum.
The superintendent said he has already begun a discussion with leaders in the city of Hammond and Purdue University Northwest for the repurposing of the Clark and Gavit school grounds if the recommended closures gain school board approval.
Miller asked that the board vote on his recommendation in its Nov. 20 meeting. The board will hear public comment in that meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Hammond Administration Center at 41 E. Williams St.