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Clay High School to close after South Bend School Board vote

Robert Smith, retired educator/Abigail Detmer, Clay High junior
Jeff Parrott
Robert Smith, retired educator/Abigail Detmer, Clay High junior

Clay High School’s days are officially numbered.

The South Bend Community School board Monday night voted 4-3 to follow a consultant’s recommendation to close Clay after the 2023-2024 school year. The move will send Clay students to one of the corporation's other three high schools – Riley, Washington or Adams. Adams is filled beyond capacity, while Riley and Washington have plenty of room.

Clay is only about 40% full. It’s down to 628 students, with capacity for 1,500.

Still, opponents of closing Clay – its students, parents, alumni, staff and faculty, pleaded with the board through three hours of emotional testimony to find other ways to “rightsize” the corporation. Like urban schools statewide, South Bend public schools have seen enrollment steadily declining for years as the Indiana legislature has pushed growth of charter schools and private school vouchers.

Clay Township resident Drew Danick, retired after teaching 33 years in the school corporation, said his four children graduated from Clay, and the township needs to keep its high school. Danick said, "SBCSC. There's a "C" in there that we are forgetting. We are a community."

Many Clay parents afterward said they weren’t surprised by the vote. They said the corporation has been setting their school up to fail since 2018 when the high school lost Clay Middle School as its geographical feeder school. That happened when Clay Middle was designated as an International Academy to lead into the International Baccalaureate program at Adams, part of the district's magnet schools program.

In adopting the consultant’s recommended facilities plan, the board also voted to close Warren Elementary on the city’s west side. The overall plan calls for dividing the corporation into three areas, each with its own high school and a kindergarten through eighth grade school. The idea there is that by keeping students in the same schools together longer, they’ll be less likely to want to leave the corporation for charter or private schools.

School Board President John Anella, who voted for the plan to close the schools, blamed the Indiana General Assembly for having “education politics instead of policy.” He also said the corporation shares blame for how it’s managed itself. He said, "The math is not our friend. It's easy to ignore the math, but it would not be responsible. We need to focus on people and programs and over physical objects. People with unlimited resources can have the highest paid teachers and employees in the area. We need to provide a high quality education to every school in our area."
But Anella said demographic trends will only continue to lower enrollment at Clay.

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).