We’re nearly a month into the new school year, and I’ll be honest: we’ve hit some bumps in the road. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to bring thousands of students back into school buildings in the midst of a global pandemic, a national bus driver shortage and persistent, record-breaking temperatures.
In these opening weeks, the Gary community has been more than patient, resourceful and resilient, and I’m grateful for the support. I’m also thankful for the partnership of Mayor Jerome Prince, the City of Gary, the Gary Police Department, Gary Public Transportation Corporation, our faith community and area youth organizations for inserting themselves wherever assistance has been needed. Keeping our students safe is our number one priority, and by working together, we can best protect our youth.
We still have the overwhelming majority of the school year ahead of us, and I am excited about the months ahead. In fact, we are better positioned than we’ve been in years to give our students the educational opportunities they deserve. My optimism stems from three main reasons:
The first reason is time. This year, we are expanding opportunities for students by extending our school day for one hour each day over the course of the entire school year. This change is the equivalent of 30 additional instructional days a year for students. Over their K-12 educational career, the longer school day will add up to nearly two more years of learning time for students. This means more time to implement new curricula, more time to participate in new Career and Technical Education programs like Aviation and Culinary Arts, and more time to make up for learning lost as a result of the abrupt switch to virtual learning in 2020.
Without question, the pandemic has been traumatic for our community and disrupted students’ ability to received instruction in an environment where they are most successful. We are committed to providing opportunities for them to catch up and grow academically, socially, and emotionally.
The second reason is staff. Gary teachers, staff and administration have been through a lot over the last 18 months. They’ve adapted to remote instruction and other work duties, and in turn, helped bring thousands of students back to school buildings safely, where they learn best. Our team has gone well beyond the classroom, finding ways to serve thousands of meals, distribute thousands of devices, and meet our students’ and families’ needs competently and creatively.
District employees are working more and being compensated at never before seen levels. Gary educators have more resources and more training opportunities, and we’re poised to achieve the hard-won academic gains we’re so focused on.
The third reason is facilities. You might not know it from the supply chain problems that kept several schools’ air conditioning units from being ready for the first day of school, but we’re investing more than $25 million into our school buildings and grounds by making long overdue improvements. Some of these changes take time, and some of them are not so obvious. For example, changing a boiler doesn’t normally make front-page news. But top-notch learning environments will help attract and retain staff and help students focus on being their best.
That’s why—even with the challenges we’ve faced in these early weeks—I’m still optimistic about this school year. Our kids give me confidence. Our staff gives me confidence. Our community gives me confidence.
As summer turns to fall, it is my that hope temperatures cool, the spread of COVID-19 subsides, and your support of our students and staff stays strong. How we handle our schools in the present will determine whether our community flourishes in the future. We’ve gone through some early bumps together, but the school year is long, and our opportunities are many.
Here’s to a successful remainder of the school year. Up from here!