Community of Opportunity The realities of Gary's Public schools
Staff slowly file in through the front doors. If they notice the leak, they don’t acknowledge it. But a puddle has begun to form on the floor...and it’s growing bigger. A custodian eventually appears, sops up the puddle with an old rag, and slips a bucket carefully underneath the hole in the ceiling. As the hour passes, more staff pour in, and they easily sidestep the bucket – plus the two others custodians have added as the leak has multiplied. The sound of the leak is muffled by conversations and squeals of delight exchanged between coworkers reuniting for the first time since school broke for summer.
It’s a weird sort of metaphor for what’s going on in the district housing the building: the Gary Community School Corporation. There are plenty of holes – financial, physical, in some cases even instructional – and although community members are aware, they seem immune to the problems.
Unless you live in Northwest Indiana – or even if you do – what you hear about the city of Gary usually comes in the form of news reports about crime, dwindling industry, or most recently the failing schools.
But the perception of Gary and the reality appear to be in a sort of disconnect: many residents really see the school community as one with a lot of promise – they seem to have faith in what district administration, teachers, parents and students are trying to do to lift up the city around them.
Here's the perception...
Driving through the neighborhoods surrounding Gary Community schools, you pass a fair share of homes with boarded-up windows. If you've ever driven through the Skyway to exit Indiana on the way to Chicago, you might be familiar with the worn down smokestacks. The blight undoubtedly gives off a certain impression. Gary’s appearance – like many headlines coming out of the city – contributes to the reputation that precedes its name for outsiders. You may have even heard people affectionately refer to Gary as the “armpit of America” before...ouch.
Like most urban centers, Gary deals with its fair share of social issues – violence, crime, poverty. What makes this city’s situation seem so much worse can basically be summed up in one word: economics.
Gary used to thrive. Back in the heyday of U.S. Steel, people flocked to Gary in droves for manufacturing jobs – the population in 1970 sat at just about 175,000. Almost half of Hoosiers living in Northwest Indiana made their living in the manufacturing sector. Those who didn’t found jobs in retail, education, and healthcare.