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South Bend school officials hear input from Clay families on facilities master plan

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Gemma DiCarlo
/
WVPE News
Kareemah Fowler, assistant superintendent for business and finance, discussed the South Bend Community School Corporation's facilities plan at a meeting on Wednesday, May 25.

As part of ongoing efforts to create a facilities master plan, South Bend school officials held a public meeting Wednesday evening focused on impacts at Clay High School and Clay International Academy.

The facilities plan comes as the district tries to correct years of declining enrollment and underutilized space at almost all district schools.

Earlier this month, consultants presented three potential options to “right-size” the district’s secondary schools. Two options involve closing Clay High School and replacing it with another district facility — either a sports complex or a career and technical education center.

District CFO Kareemah Fowler said administrators wanted to have a separate meeting with Clay families to further explain the options and gather more feedback.

“When we look at the survey demographic information, as to who the people were that were taking the survey and where the comments were coming from, it was a lot of people in the Clay district,” she said.

The meeting turned heated at times, with attendees and administrators shouting over each other at different points.

Parents, teachers and former students questioned whether a closure would really solve the district’s enrollment and retention issues, and asked what the district is doing to address longer-term challenges outside of the facilities plan.

Catherine Henderson is a Clay graduate and has worked at the school as an English teacher and counselor since 1995.

“Right-sizing is a nice idea,” she said. “But I would feel better about any schools closing — or restructuring, or whatever — if they were making some clear moves for how they were going to improve transportation, discipline, stability.”

Administrators said the district hasn’t formed a long-term facilities plan in decades, and repeatedly asked attendees for suggestions and alternative options.

“I can’t speak for 20 years — this is right now, and what are we going to do 10 years from now,” Fowler said. “History is important, I get that. But if every time we come to these meetings, we can’t get anywhere if everyone’s going to harp on the last 20 years.”

Attendees expressed strong support for the idea of neighborhood schools and maintaining momentum at Clay’s K-8 international academy and visual and performing arts magnet.

School board member Stuart Greene, whose district covers parts of Clay Township, emphasized that none of the options presented by consultants were final. He said the board likely wouldn’t see an official proposal until late November, and that any changes are “a couple years out.”

“I think that [people are] looking at the options or hearing from others that it’s imminent, that we’re going to be making these changes in the fall,” he said. “These are options within options — they’re not proposals, they’re not mandates.”

The district’s latest survey on the facilities plan is now closed, but Greene ended Wednesday by saying the district would be holding future meetings with community members.

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.