Rebecca Acevez, Bethune pre-school teacher and Carlos Tolliver, Gary school board member

Bethune parents talk about a special place

Contributed By:The 411 News

Emergency manager talks about cutting costs

Two different storylines about Bethune pre-school were on the table at Monday’s meeting hosted by Gary public schools’ Emergency Manager Dr. Peggy Hinckley.

Parents of children who attend the school spoke about a place they love. Dr. Peggy Hinckley talked about a school district seeking solutions to reduce costs with closing Bethune as one of them.

It was a clash of cultures that’s been building in recent weeks, fueled by Dr. Hinckley’s statements about Bethune and pushback from some in the community at odds with the state takeover of the school district.

For Melissa Dixon, Bethune is like a family, where she has enrolled 5 of her six children. “They don’t do just what’s right for the children; they do what’s right for the parents.”

Sheila DuBose’s great-niece is in a special education class at the school. DuBose said the family has already seen improvements since August. “If you close Bethune, where are these kids going to go. I don’t understand the Gary public school system. You have all these signs all over saying ‘Give Gary public schools a chance,’ and you wonder why people send their children to charter schools. You are failing the community.”

Bethune teacher Rebecca Acevez said she understood the money situation. Before coming to Bethune, she taught the only pre-school class at Aetna, an elementary building. “The children didn’t leave the room and we were not included in activities. When I came to Bethune, it was a community. We went on field trips. All the classes are for 3- to 5-year-olds. It’s the best thing the school district has done.” When you move the program, don’t isolate the pre-school, she asked.

Board member Carlos Tolliver told the meeting, “Bethune has a tier 3 rating that won’t follow the school when it’s moved to other buildings. I have a grandson that I wouldn’t put into an elementary school with 5-6th graders acting out of control. If I wouldn’t do it for mine, I wouldn’t ask others to do it for theirs.”

“There’s been so much misinformation spread about Bethune. The notion we’re closing Bethune is inaccurate,” Hinckley said. “Our discussions are on relocating the program to different schools since we have so much unused elementary space.”

The emergency manager said the facility is in poor condition and the district doesn’t have the money to repair and maintain it.

Dr. Hinckley said any decision to close Bethune will be presented to the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB), the state agency that partners with the emergency manager in running the Gary Community School Corporation. “There will be public hearings. You will know by spring.”

Unusual for Dr. Hinckley at the close of the meeting, remarked, “We’re happy to stay around if there are any individual questions you’d like us to address.” Unlike many meetings on Gary schools, there were fewer tensions and fingerpointing.

Leonard Moody, the district’s chief financial officer said they want to put the program in three schools instead of one. “Bethune has a great culture and we’re going to do our best to preserve it.” There would be four to five classrooms at each location. Moody said Bethune has capacity for 1,500 students. The current student population is about 250.

Story Posted:10/24/2018

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