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Cheryl Pruitt

Cheryl Pruitt, superintendent, Gary Community Schools Corp. 

GARY | The Gary Community School Corp. wants the state to back off with takeovers, vouchers and charter schools so it can pursue its own five-year improvement plan called the Courageous Plan to Transform Gary schools, or CP2T. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt and EdisonLearning CEO and President Thom Jackson held a series of meetings at Gary schools Saturday to discuss a holistic plan to improve the performance of struggling schools they will present to the Gary School Board within the next 10 days, and to the Indiana Department of Education in January.

The school district wants to fix its schools without any more state takeovers, to regain control over Gary Roosevelt High School and ensure adequate funding at a time it's only collecting 42 percent of the property taxes it's owed, Pruitt said.

Pruitt will ask the state not to interfere with the local management of Gary schools for five years while the district enacts a systematic plan to fix the schools, including by repairing buildings, making the curriculum more rigorous, and giving children more international experience.

The district also needs to look at how it will replace a large number of retiring teachers when there's a 50 percent decline in education students in Indiana colleges, including by potentially partnering with the city of Gary to offer teachers housing as an incentive.

The hope is the transformation plan will eventually be known as the "Gary model" and emulated nationally to fix issues that all urban school districts face, Jackson said.

"What Gary is going through is replicated throughout this country in other urban districts," he said. "It's not just Gary. You see, time and time and time again, other urban districts are going through the same thing. What Dr. Pruitt has really seized upon is that the only way you really change this is through a comprehensive sustainable approach focused on all of the students.

"There is a role for everyone in this. She'll talk about the role of students, beginning with a sense of accountability. Yes, we need to make sure they have a safe learning environment, but we've also got to make sure our students understand they too are accountable for their own education."

Jackson estimated a $30 million to $40 million investment was needed as a "down payment" so students can learn in safe, well-maintained buildings without peeling paint or broken heating and air conditioning systems.

The district has made significant cuts and consolidated schools, but still isn't receiving adequate funding to make sure all children have the opportunity to learn, Pruitt said. She proposed reaching out to successful alumni, creating a development office and soliciting private donations to shore up the dwindling property tax revenue that's needed for infrastructure, transportation and debt.  

Not funding education enough only ends up costing taxpayers more in the end, since high school dropouts across the country account for $22 billion a year in lost wages, Pruitt said. The national average is $9,000 a year spent on a student, while it costs $43,000 a year to incarcerate a single prisoner.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the city would back the school district's transformation plan, including by looking into opening its Dollar Home program to teachers, lobbying on behalf off the school district at the Indiana statehouse and trying to help secure federal assistance.

"Everyone knows that the education is the linchpin of success in our community," she said. "No matter what we do in City Hall, we understand every time we recruit a business and have a conversation, there's always a question about education."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.