The Gary Community School Corp. is kicking off the school year Aug. 9 with a rebrand officials said has academics at its core.

“The Gary Way” rebrand announcement came Friday, a day after members of the state Distressed Unit Appeal Board peppered school officials with questions about the students’ proficiency on ILEARN, the state’s assessment exam. Scores were released last month.

Gary students in grades 3-8 showed slight improvement with 2% passing both English/language arts and math. Last year, just 1.2% passed.

“Our scores are going up, we have worked hard the last couple years to lay an operational foundation,” said district manager Paige McNulty.

Earlier, McNulty reported student scores increased 10% to 15% on an internal assessment that measures growth called iREADY. The district used its COVID-19 relief funding to finance the assessment.

Still, the low ILEARN scores drew criticism from DUAB members.

“Something’s wrong, you’re not getting to kids,” said board member Wes Bruce, who said the low assessment scores preceded the pandemic.

“What are we calling success? A percentage that is still failure?” he asked officials. “When are we at least going to get to 80% of the state average?”

The DUAB governs the district and in May, it awarded a two-year contract to MGT Consulting to continue managing it.

In response to Bruce, new transformation director Andre Wright said the analysis needs to begin at the bottom and build upon improvement each year. “Get the continuum to start to move,” he said.

“That has to be become our strategy. Too many students have been on the floor (level) for too long,” Wright said.

Wright said they should ask students who are scoring well about how they do it.

“Do an analysis and find out,” Wright said. “You can PD (professional development) all day long but the key is we need to be learning and using results of assessments to determine what we’re going to develop… Take the results and turn it toward teachers.”

McNulty and chief academic officer Kimberley Bradley defended the district’s approach saying they’ve beefed up the teaching staff with people certified to teach math and added coaches and teacher support across the district.

McNulty said the graduate rate at the West Side Leadership academy increased 20 points to 79% this year from 2021.

Earlier this year, MGT hired Wright and project director Rajeev Bajaj to lead the turnaround effort.

McNulty said she expects enrollment to increase and said the Gary Area Career Center already has 325 students signed up, compared to 58 last year.

At West Side, there will be co-principals with new hire Carl Scott overseeing day-to-day operations and Brandi Herrod heading up a new dual credit program as West Side begins the certification process to become an Early College High School.

Also, as part of the rebrand, all the schools will have a Cougar nickname and blue and orange colors. “The blue and orange colors and the Cougar mascot across the district symbolize our unity,” said McNulty.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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Gary schools rebrand, while state wants academic rebound

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