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INDIANAPOLIS — The new emergency manager at the Gary Community School Corp. plans to continue listening to concerned parents and citizens as he works to right-size revenue and spending at the cash-strapped school district.

Pete Morikis told the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board Thursday that he's already attended more than 20 meetings and events throughout Gary to better understand how city residents envision the future of their schools.

"I've been really touched by the kindnesses of the community," Morikis said. "They've been very gracious, very open and honest, putting out their thoughts and desires to create better schools for their kids."

The former Griffith Public Schools superintendent last month was selected by Gary Schools Recovery LLC to succeed the retiring Peggy Hinckley as emergency manager in Gary.

Morikis said he's still getting to know the students, teachers and staff in Gary schools, and learning about all the opportunities and challenges at the district that was taken over by the state in 2017 following years of financial mismanagement by local authorities.

"We're working hard to keep things moving in a positive direction," he said.

Morikis noted that his to-do list already includes: keeping student enrollment stable, since district revenue shrinks by nearly $9,000 for every departing child; reducing elementary school class sizes by hiring more teachers; enhancing curriculum offerings; boosting career training opportunities; and improving student test scores.

"When you're in a neighborhood school, and it's not doing very well, and there's another option that's presented, sometimes a parent is forced to make that difficult decision," Morikis said. "We need to give parents a reason to stay."

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, a DUAB advisory member who previously clashed with Hinckley, said so far Gary residents are telling him that they're satisfied with "Dr. Pete's" willingness to engage and listen to them.

"From the community, I'm getting nothing but positive vibes from the new leadership," Smith said.

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