Superintendent addresses parents concerns over restructuring South Bend Schools

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The South Bend Schools system might be seeing changes as soon as the end of this year as the Board of Trustees discusses two school closures and the creation of an innovation zone at two more elementary's.

Tarkington is just one of two schools that could close as early as the 2021-2022 school year. Now that’s not the only change the South Bend Community School Corporation Board is thinking about. And the reasoning behind all of these proposals stems from making sure the district is running efficiently, performing well... and it could save the district a lot of money.

“I have to say that I've been a Marquette parent since 2009. I've at least had somebody there throughout that entire time. And I felt very hurt by what I heard in the meeting," Kathryn Ball-Boruff said, who has 3 kids, 2 of which are in the SBCSC.

Big changes could be coming soon for South Bend School Corporation families as board members discussed a few proposals at Monday night's trustee's meeting.

Including the closure of two elementary schools, Hay and Tarkington, the board spoke about the creation of an innovation network zone for Muessel Elementary and Marquette Montessori Academy.

They also discussed and several different options, to possibly restructure middle and high schools. Ranging from having some 6th-through 12th graders in the same building, changing an existing high school to a vocational center, or closing one down altogether.

But why?

"So this is grounded in academic improvement. The district is dedicated to ensuring that every student goes and participates in a high performing school," Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings said.

Cummings says the closures of Hay and Tarkington was a promise the district made during its referendum campaign.

"Rather than paying on empty space. This allows us to pay teachers, lower class sizes, and to ensure that our students and teachers have access to great programming," he said.

And he says the innovation zone will help both schools achieve more.

"We're committed to doing Montessori better. However, when you look at the state's grades, it has four consecutive fs, the state is not going to allow us to continue to do use resources on a school that doesn't perform," he said. "An innovation zone allows us to reset the grade. It also allows autonomy for principals and for teachers to ensure that teachers are paid a differentia”

And as for the proposed changes to the middle and high school structure?

"So we're going to take next year, and we're going to ask the community what they want to do with our high schools. Our last resort is closure," he said.

Some parents telling us they aren’t too happy about any of it.

One mom on Facebook saying quote “If Hay closes, I will be taking my children out of SBCSC.”

Others, worried that creating an innovation zone at Marquette Montessori may mean unwanted changes to how the school currently works.

“I really feel that they have been so well served by the wonderful teachers and staff. And so to hear the exact phrasing that dr. Cummings used was that our children are tethered to a failing school if I go into Marquette. And I found that very, very hurtful," Ball-Boruff said. “I do not believe it's not possible for our children to shine."

Now, this isn’t the first time the district has resized."

"They combined a bunch of schools not that long ago, and that was the result of trying to the right size. But then students that have been happy in those schools left the district," she said.

During the district's Focus 2018 plan three schools closed down permanently and saved the district millions.

Now with these new proposals, parents say they aren’t sure things will change for the better.

“I'm just wondering, are they just gonna continue to right-size until they have one elementary school? I mean, like, what's gonna happen? You know, how far down do they want to take it," she said.

“We did it during focus 2018. And some differences with that is this time it's grounded in academic improvement. And second, we are being as transparent as possible. We're getting community input we want to share with stakeholders and with students and families. The changes that may be coming, the board takes final action," Cummings said.

Now, this was just announced Monday night, so a lot of it still needs to be figured out.

There are four virtual info sessions scheduled on February 3rd for families and faculty at Hay and Tarkington Elementary schools.

A final board vote on those closures and the innovation zone will be on February 2nd and as for the restructuring of middle and high schools, a final board decision will be made at the end of the calendar year 2021.

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