Indiana

Hannon resigns IPS board to take a Mind Trust fellowship

Caitlin Hannon, a former Indianapolis Public Schools teacher who joined the school board in an effort to push for change in the district, has stepped down, but she hopes to return to a key role in education in the city soon.

Hannon resigned today in order to accept an “education entrepreneur” fellowship from The Mind Trust. She will work toward launching a new nonprofit organization with a goal of creating a shared enrollment system that would allow families to apply for both IPS and charter schools on one form.

That’s an idea Hannon has championed as a board member.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure that parents have access to choices, both within the district, and for me personally, outside of the district as well,” she said about the idea earlier this year. “We have ton of choice (in Indianapolis), but we don’t have a ton of clarity around navigating that system.”

Hannon grew up in suburban Indianapolis and worked as an education policy adviser in New York City before she returned to become a teacher through the national teacher recruiting organization Teach For America at Arsenal Tech High School and Emma Donnan Middle School. Then she ran for the school board in 2012. She will also leave her job as the Indianapolis executive director of Teach Plus, a national organization that pushes for teachers to get involved in education policy debates.

Hannon was one of three new school board members who ran three years ago on similar platforms that advocated for more autonomy for schools, less central office spending and other changes. She was elected along with newcomers Sam Odle and Gayle Cosby, and the three helped force out then-Superintendent Eugene White and hire Lewis Ferebee as his replacement.

Hannon has said a shared enrollment system would help parents find schools that best fit their kids’ needs and reduce confusion about what students are enrolled at what schools, an uncertainty that causes some schools to scramble during the first month to track down students who don’t show up. But she also argued such a system would provide better data about which schools are in demand and which are not.

“This new venture will allow me to work even more closely with families to help them navigate the school selection and enrollment process,” she said in a statement. “I am thrilled to work to empower parents with better information and to simplify the system for families.”

The board will appoint a replacement to fill out the remainder of Hannon’s term, which runs through the end of 2016. District officials said there is no time table yet for when the appointment would be made.

“We now look ahead to filling her seat and continuing with the momentum we’ve had over the past years and months,” board President Diane Arnold said in a statement.

In May, Ferebee said preliminary discussions were underway with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office about the idea of creating a common enrollment process to be shared by IPS and Mayor Greg Ballard’s portfolio of Indianapolis charter schools.

Ferebee praised Hannon’s move.

“I believe her work on this exciting new initiative will be beneficial for Indianapolis,” he said in a statement.

Sharing enrollment in one system, Hannon and others have argued, would allow district and charter schools to more efficiently plan their staffing and would make it easier for parents who are trying to decide whether to send their children to IPS or to a charter school.

But some skeptics are wary that the plan could either promote charter schools in a way that would hurt IPS enrollment or dampen competition for students by making the selection process more bureaucratic.

Hannon is just the ninth such fellow since 2008 for The Mind Trust’s program that selects innovative education ideas from anywhere in the world and incubates them on the condition they are launched in Indianapolis. The fellowship will pay her a salary and provide support as she crafts her idea. Past winners include Earl Martin Phalen, who used the fellowship to create Summer Advantage, and Mariama Carson, who is developing a dual language immersion charter school.

The Mind Trust operates a separate fellowship that supports educators who want to develop ideas for turning around low-scoring IPS schools.

Founded in 2006, The Mind Trust is a non-profit based in Indianapolis that aims to improve learning in the city by supporting educational change.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.