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South Bend Schools consider possible closures, realignment

Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 8:20 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The South Bend School Board is considering the closure of two elementary schools at the end of this school year.

16 News Now reporter Carly Miller tells us more about these possible closures and other reorganization plans of the school corporation.

The main focus of Monday’s South Bend School Board meeting? Reorganizing the district’s schools.

“I’m committed, as superintendent, that students will not only go to high-performing schools, but they will participate in them as well. Tonight begins a transformation of our schools,” SBCSC Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings said.

One announcement being the possible closure of two of the district’s elementary schools, Hay and Tarkington.

Most students at these schools would begin the next school year at Monroe, Harrison or Darden Elementary.

“The goal of this plan is not to increase class sizes. It may mean more classrooms in a building, but we do not want it to impact where we have larger class sizes in the buildings,” SBCSC Chief Academic Officer Brandon White said.

According to the district, Hay uses less than 50% of its capacity and Tarkington less than 60%.

“We want the money to go to the classroom. We don’t want money being spent on half-full buildings where we’re spending money on facilities and operations,” School Board President John Anella said.

Also, a new Innovation Network Zone for two underperforming schools was proposed with hopes of improving academic achievement.

Some realignment options were also suggested Monday night for some of the district’s secondary schools in 2022.

Options include combining some middle and high schools to create 2 new schools grades 6-12, reconfiguring a high school into a career and vocational center or shutting down one of the high schools.

Before any plans are finalized, the corporation plans to get feedback from the community.

“We need to work together. We need to engage our families and our employees and our communities and make sure that we’re making the right decisions that help push us all forward together,” Anella said.

A final board vote on the two possible closures and Innovation Network Zone is scheduled for Monday, February 22nd, and a vote on the middle and high school realignment isn’t set until the end of this year.

From South Bend Community School Corporation:

Plans for rightsizing and reorganizing the South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC) were presented this evening at the regular meeting of the South Bend Community School Board of Trustees.

Included in tonight’s discussion were plans to close Hay and Tarkington Elementary Schools at the end of this academic year. Each K-5 school building has capacity to serve more than 600 students; currently, Hay utilizes less than 50% of that capacity and Tarkington less than 60%.

“As we stated last year in advance of the referendum vote, the District is committed to rightsizing. Closing Hay and Tarkington would be a resourceful response to underutilized buildings and declining enrollment. Continuing to spend money to maintain buildings that are used at half capacity makes little sense,” said Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings.

“As stewards of this corporation’s financial resources, the Board and I have the responsibility and duty to examine options for improving academic outcomes and for making wise budgetary decisions.”

Four virtual information sessions have been scheduled for Wednesday, February 3 for families, staff, and faculty of the two schools. Two sessions will be specifically for families, and Dr. Cummings will answer questions and explain school options for students affected by the closures. The other two sessions are designed specifically for faculty and staff, and will focus primarily on human resources issues for those whose jobs will be impacted by the closures. Details of those meetings will be sent to stakeholders this week.

In addition to closing Hay and Tarkington, SBCSC plans to create an Innovation Network Zone for two other elementary schools, Muessel Elementary and Marquette Montessori Academy, both of which have consistently underperformed. An Innovation Zone will provide these underperforming schools with autonomy and the support necessary for improved academic achievement.

“Every student in the South Bend Community School Corporation deserves to attend a high performing school. For too long, some of our students have been tethered to failing schools; it is time to transform their academic lives and explore ways to allow students’ potential to shine,” said Cummings.

“These decisions to close and reorganize are rooted in the priorities of our strategic plan: academic success, financial sustainability, and equity and inclusion,” Cummings said.

A final Board vote on these plans is scheduled for Monday, February 22.

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Recommendations and options to consider for academic year 2022-23 for addressing enrollment, space, and operations issues at the secondary level were presented this evening at the regular meeting of the South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC) Board of Trustees.

One recommendation was the creation of two grade 6-12 junior-senior high schools, which would involve three underperforming middle schools in the district being absorbed into two underutilized high schools. Other options presented were the reconfiguration of an existing high school into a career and vocational center, or a last resort, the closure of one high school.

“As we prepared for the referendum vote last year, we committed to rightsizing the corporation to focus on improved academic performance and the elimination of under-capacity buildings, said Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings.

“These recommendations for realigning some secondary schools in the district would maximize opportunities for academic transformation, but before any plan is finalized, I will seek community feedback throughout 2021 through a series of meetings with community groups and other stakeholders.”

Dr. Cummings and others on the corporation’s administrative team plan to meet throughout the year with various community groups, seeking their input, insight, and opinions about what model would best serve students and the community at large.

Under the middle school realignment model option, current middle school students could choose to attend a free standing middle school, attend a 6-12 junior-senior high school, or attend the district’s K-8 school.

If the junior-senior school model is approved, the two grades 6-12 schools would operate as separate schools within one building, with each having its own principals, administrative teams, and teachers.

Final decisions on these recommendations will be made by the Board of Trustees at the end of calendar year 2021.

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