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Wirt-Emerson or West Side will close at end of 2017-18 school year

Emergency manager will close West Side or Wirt-Emerson

Contributed By:The 411 News

Some from Gary say it’s a move that should have been taken years ago

Taking a step that Gary school district critics, and even some parents and supporters have urged for more than a decade, Dr. Peggy Hinckley told her state bosses she is considering closing one of the Gary school district’s two high schools at the end of the 2017-18 school year – either West Side Leadership Academy or Wirt-Emerson Visual & Performing Arts Academy.

In her monthly report to the DUAB (Distressed Unit Appeal Board), the Indiana agency that appointed Dr. Hinckley as emergency manager and oversees the state takeover of the Gary school district, she said the district doesn’t have enough high school students to keep both schools open.

Closing one school and combining all 9-12 grades in the other school are among the steps to reducing the $21 million shortfall in the school corporation’s yearly budget. "High schools are the most expensive facilities to operate, and we must move to one," Hinckley said.

The emergency manager said closing a high school "will not necessarily bring out a roaring crowd of approval" from Gary residents.

But Hinckley doesn’t know Gary residents and the debate over West Side and Wirt-Emerson is not new. It was a fractious matter when the school corporation closed Emerson High School in 2008 because of its poor physical shape. Mold in the building was also making students sick. Emerson opened in 1909.

Back then, a faction wanted the Emerson students relocated to West Side and to combine those schools performing arts and high ability programs. This was before the district’s financial crisis. Instead, Emerson students were shifted to a renovated Kennedy-King, then later to Wirt.

During the last years of his tenure as the school district’s athletic director, Coach Earl Smith supported one high school for Gary. Smith retired in 2013.

Talking to present and past Gary residents, the message is that most favor one high school.

From James Harris: “Gary should have started closing schools years ago when Superintendent Hawkins suggested it. West Side should remain open because it is the newer of the two schools and it was built to handle at least 3000 plus students. There should only be 1 high school in Gary right now. I wish the best for the school system and the emergency manager.”

From Marcus Hare: “Should've been done years ago. Our children deserve a state of the art high school preferably adjacent to IUN – so many possibilities and programs!”

From Harriett Washington: “Close West Side, too much physical deterioration. Auditorium at Wirt-Emerson is better along with the acoustics; perhaps then we can order a DVD with good audio.”

From Eloise Smith: “They made it perfectly clear which one at the first finance meeting at Bethune. They announced that West Side is getting new lights installed and roof repair. They hardly ever discuss anything about Wirt Emerson. They're putting money into the one they've already chosen to keep open.”

From Kenneth Shannon: “Close West Side.”

From Karina Mitchell: “All of them need to close; build a new state of the art high school and look forward to the future.”

From Charles McCoy: “My 2 cents, if I were there, it would be to close all the high schools in Gary – Roosevelt, West Side, and Wirt Emerson. Find a location, perhaps where the old Froebel location was and build a state of the art facility that will educate our children for the future so that they are equipped to compete in this world economy.”

From Charlene Millard: “Wirt-Emerson should close. They are older. They may have mold in the walls which may cause cancer and all kind of trouble with the lungs.”

From Elaine Spicer: “I think we could have West Side and Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts. We (Gary, IN) have one of a small number of successful VPA Programs. We have many, very successful graduates because of their talents that were recognized, nurtured, supported, fertilized and enhanced at Emerson.”

From Kwabena Sakidi Jijaga Rasuli: “No more should be closed! Jefferson should not have closed. Lew Wallace should not have closed. Stop falling for their tricks. Keep our schools open. Neighborhood schools are good for our community.”

From Marjol Rush Collet: “Now, if there are 100 graduates that's counted as a success. Yes, people have left and the population has dropped; so it looks like there will be only 1 high school. What a shame... How can this be... The City of the Century... It has come down around us.”

From Dwight Taylor: “Once Gary's population started diminishing, schools should've been closed proportionately. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out if Gary is not a magnet for attracting new residents, the population will continue to diminish and fewer schools will be needed.”

With the closure of one of the schools next year, the city will have 1 district-run high school and 3 high schools operated by charters: Thea Bowman, 21st Century, and Lighthouse.

Story Posted:11/04/2017

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