Our founding group was formed by individuals who have deep personal and professional ties to Gary, and are deeply motivated to create a truly high performing example that redefines expectations of what a school can achieve in Gary. Our team wants to do this work in Gary because Gary is the community we are committed to calling home. We know the families of prospective students by name and call them teammates and neighbors. While our group comes from diverse backgrounds and places throughout the United States, we have made the same decision: we will make creating this school in Gary our life’s work.

Founding team member Julianne begins attending preschool in the University Park area of Gary. The seeds of working for educational equity for Gary are planted!

Chrissy, Katie, and Hilary (Board Chair) all begin working at schools in Gary. Connected by their love and gratitude for their work in Gary, they will continue to cross paths professionally.

Chrissy, Katie, and Robert begin meeting weekly to dream, design, and eventually propose a transformational school for Gary, Indiana. Julianne and Hilary join in the fun before year’s end.


A founding board bringing together over 50 years of combined experience serving kids in Gary with a wide variety of expertise organizes under the name Global Leadership Academy.

The Indiana Charter School Board approves Global Leadership Academy as their first school to open in Northwest Indiana.


Founding team engages with community to determine the name of its first campus.

Global Leadership Academy approves to name its school Steel City Academy.

Steel City Academy secures its facility.

Steel City Academy opened its doors to 7th and 9th graders.


KATIE KIRLEY | Executive Director and Principal

Katie came to Gary in 2007 as part of the first group of Teach For America teachers to be placed in Northwest Indiana and has never left. Katie began as a 7th grade math and science teacher, moved into a Director of Instruction role and eventually served as Assistant Principal at Lighthouse College Prep Academy. Currently, Katie works as the Director of School Leadership on the national team for Teach For America. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Loyola University, Chicago and her Masters of Educational Leadership with a concentration in School Building Leadership from Columbia University in New York.



Julianne is obsessed with expanding access to quality education for students in her native, Gary, Indiana. As a Co-Founder of Steel City Academy, she was responsible for engaging with and empowering our families and students, and served as a bridge to the greater community. Julianne began her career in education as a 2009 Teach For America Corps Member, where she was a District of Columbia Public Schools, Special Education teacher. She subsequently used her eye for talent matching and program design at Teach For America-Chicago-NWI, Chicago Public Schools, and Koya Leadership Partners. Julianne holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Purdue University, and a Master of Education Degree in Special Education, from George Mason University; she was also awarded the 2017 Surge Institute Fellowship.


Chrissy was the founding Executive Director and lead the founding team for Steel City Academy after nearly a decade working on behalf of students in Gary. She began her career as a science teacher at Sousa Middle School in Washington D.C. She then continued to teach math, science, and eventually, serve as Director of KIPP to College, at KIPP schools in both D.C. and Chicago. Chrissy then served as the principal of Gary Lighthouse Charter School for seven years. Chrissy received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and her Masters of Teaching from The American University in Washington D.C. Chrissy is also a 2000 Teach For America corps member.


Robert brought practical legal advice and business development skills to the founding team. After college, Robert spent over two years living and working in Burkina Faso as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After returning to the United States, he co-founded a nonprofit organization that provides technological hardware and educational software to secondary schools and universities throughout West Africa.   Robert also worked several years as an attorney for the City of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Robert received his B.A. in Economics and Philosophy from the University of Illinois, Urbana – Champaign and his Juris Doctorate from Loyola University School of Law.