The replacement

Two IPS parents, one ousted member vie for open seat on school board

PHOTO: Monica Disare

Just 30 days after voters chose four members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, a fifth seat is up for grabs.

Board members must fill an unexpected vacancy following the resignation November 7 of District 5 board member LaNier Echols. The board will choose from three finalists who were interviewed tonight, including the man who held the seat before Echols. The finalists are:

  • Michael Brown, who served on the IPS board for over 16 years;
  • Eugene Hawkins, an IPS parent and senior operations manager at Praxair Surface Technologies; and
  • Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, an IPS parent who previously led human resources for a large nonprofit.

In his interview with the board, Brown, who represented District 5 for 16 years before losing his seat to Echols in 2014, described his education philosophy as “we do whatever to takes to make children successful.”

Brown, a retired supervisor for UPS, is not naturally aligned with the board’s current majority, which is largely comprised of members who support controversial reforms such as innovation schools. Innovation schools are considered part of the district but have many of the freedoms of charter schools including non-unionized teachers.

Brown, who has been skeptical of innovation schools, was largely pushed out of office by advocates who wanted to see drastic changes. He backed former-Superintendent Eugene White and voted against a buyout that made way for Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. In the next election, advocates who wanted change in the district supported Echols and other “reformers” who maintain a majority on the board.

As he made his pitch to the board, Brown clearly knew he was being evaluated by members he might have disagreements with. He stressed that he shares the board’s ultimate goal of improving school quality.

“Rather than my side, your side, it’s the children’s side and making sure that that is what drives us,” he said.

A lifelong resident of Indianapolis, Brown touted his experience with the district as a parent, coach and tutor. He said even though he is not currently on the board, neighbors still call him with questions about schools.

Since the other two candidates don’t have prior relationships with the board, they devoted a portion of their interviews to introducing themselves.

Hawkins said he moved to Indianapolis in the late 1990s and has since grown “roots” in the city. In his spare time, he said, he works with students as a mentor and coach.

Hawkins is the parent of a child at Cold Spring School, a thriving environmental science magnet school that converted to an innovation school this year. He said that his son is having a wonderful experience at the school, and he would like other students in the city to have the same quality education.

“I am excited and passionate about my neighborhood,” he said. “I have found a way to get others excited as well. … One of the biggest strengths that I have is passion for getting things done and exciting others.”

The third candidate, Hoops, said she’s a California a native who moved to Indianapolis in 2011. She is a first-generation Mexican American and a fluent Spanish speaker who previously led human resources for a large nonprofit organization.

Hoops’ son attends School 27, a Center for Inquiry magnet school on the near northwest. She said her son has special needs, which prompted her to leave her career to focus on his education. That experience fueled her interest in improving education for other students.

“I really am passionate about ensuring that all children of all backgrounds and abilities have the educational experience that they need in order to make the choices that they want to make in the future,” she said.

If the board chooses Hawkins or Hoops, it would fill a potential gap on the board: The perspective of a current parent. Many board members have children who graduated from IPS and relatives in the schools. But the only current IPS parent is Gayle Cosby, who did not run for reelection and will end her term this month.

Cosby’s other role on the board, however, has been that of a vocal dissenter, and Brown seems best positioned to play the role of skeptic on innovation schools and other controversial changes.

The three finalists were identified by the board during a Wednesday meeting that was closed to the public. The law requires that a minimum of three candidates be interviewed publicly but there were only three contenders. A fourth candidate, Donnell Duncan, withdrew his application before the meeting.

Echols told Chalkbeat just hours before last month’s election that she planned to leave the board. Echols, who has an infant son, said the decision was related to family obligations. She said she plans to return to Florida.

If Echols had resigned earlier in the year, her seat would have appeared on the ballot in November and voters would have gotten to choose her replacement instead of the board.

Some critics suggested that Echols had side-stepped democracy by not announcing her resignation sooner but a local election attorney told Chalkbeat that it’s not clear when she would have had to make her departure public in order for her post to have appeared on the ballot.

The board will vote on a new member at its meeting Tuesday.

getting active

What three New York City teens say about politics today — and getting their peers to vote

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Nuzhat Wahid contributes to a brainstorming session during a recent YVote meeting.

Plenty of adults are frustrated with politics these days, when turning on the television or reading the latest news alert brings a fresh jolt of anxiety. A new organization wants to help teens channel that angst into action.

Founded by educators, organizers and members of the media, YVote plans to work backwards from issues that teens are passionate about to answer the question: “Why vote?” The aim is to recruit students who will be “18 in ’18” — in other words, old enough to vote in the next election cycle — to head to the polls and become the next generation of community activists.

“People in my generation and those older than us haven’t done a great job in being civil in the way they talk to each other,” Liz Gray, a teacher at NYC iSchool and a facilitator for YVote, told students at the organization’s inaugural meeting this month. “So we’re trying to set a new set of norms with all of you.”

About 50 teens from every borough and more than 20 different schools make up the first YVote class. They are an intentionally diverse group of various political stripes, economic backgrounds and countries of origin. Using the Freedom Summer of 1964 and other case studies, students will work throughout the year to design and test their own campaigns. The goal: to encourage civic engagement while learning to listen to others — even when they disagree.

Chalkbeat spoke with three teens who have joined the effort. Here’s what they think about politics and how to get their peers to the voting booth. These interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Millennium Shrestha, 17, Forest Hills High School, Queens

Millennium Shrestha

I’m passionate about: computer sciences. I’d like to connect computers to mankind. I want to bring a change, a computer revolution.

Teens can teach adults about: the clichés that they hold in their thoughts and ideas. I think if you do things exactly as people in the past have done, it’s useless because you know what the outcome is going to be. But if you find new thoughts or ideas to change this world, it works really well. You have to do something weird to get attention.

One way to get teens committed to voting is: not just giving them motivational speeches about what voting is about. There should be a day just focused on getting youth involved in voting. I think it’s easier to get them to vote if you can grab their attention.

I would describe the current political climate as: not that bad. If political systems are monotonous, you’ll never get to the top of the world. It should change periodically. Now we have Mr. Trump, and I actually support Trump for president because now we’ll see different views and ideas. It might be good, it might be bad, but there’s going to be a change.

Faith Vieira, 15, Brooklyn College Academy

Faith Vieira, a rising senior at Brooklyn College Academy, is a member of YVote.
Faith Vieira

I’m passionate about: advocating for youths to be better versions of themselves and spreading influence to affect others — to have a ripple effect.

I think teens can teach adults about: what it was like to be a teen, and how the issues that they face are related to the issues we face. We’re people also, and our voice is important to their success and their social issues, too.

One way to get teens committed to vote is: to show there is an actual effect if they don’t vote, or if they do. To basically show that their voice is getting heard and their choice matters.

I would describe the current political climate as: stressful. The voice that we thought we put out isn’t really being heard. So it’s stressful — but it’s needed because it shows the division that we have in the country. But there’s going to be progress because now people are going to be forced to come together.

Nuzhat Wahid, 16, Academy of American Studies, Queens

Nuzhat Wahid

I’m passionate about: political activism. I’m passionate about world issues and conflict resolution. I like to know more and I like to try to be as open-minded as possible.

I think teens can teach adults about: respect. Recently we’ve seen in the political atmosphere that a lot of people can’t seem to compromise with others. They can’t seem to respect what their peers are saying. They can’t seem to come to an understanding or a resolution. So I think that, given that we are seeing this, we understand what not to do. And when we are adults, we may be able to talk about compromise.

One way to get teens committed to voting is: to educate them more on the voting process. To spread awareness of the fact that there are more elections than just the main, presidential elections. That there are local elections where you can elect your local representatives, and that can affect change.

I would describe the current political climate as: tense. Unworkable. Ineffective.

FAQ

Goodbye, focus and priority schools: Hello, new ways of supporting Indiana’s struggling students, whether their school is an A or an F.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students at Phalen Leadership Academy at IPS School 103. The school was on the priority school list for 2016.

Under new federal law, Indiana officials will no longer only have a responsibility to step in to help the state’s worst-performing schools — they’ll be responsible for rooting out problems in high-achieving districts as well.

Currently, Indiana education officials siphon off the state’s most-struggling schools each year for more support or other kinds of state intervention, based on their A-to-F grades. Schools that receive Fs or have graduation rates below 65 percent are called “priority schools,” and schools that receive Ds are called “focus schools.”

The categories serve as a watch-list for both federal and state accountability. Only D- and F-schools that receive federal poverty aid, known as Title I funding, are be eligible to go on the lists.

But going forward, the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act makes some pretty big changes to this system. The law replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015, and the state is currently overhauling its education policy plan to meet the new requirements. The plan is due to the federal government for approval in September.

Below, we break down the new rules and answer some questions.

So what will happen to focus and priority schools?

Those categories will go away, and two new ones will be introduced: “targeted support” and “comprehensive support.”

Targeted support schools are ones where certain group of students are doing poorly on state tests. It’s a distinction that’s focused on trying to close test score gaps between students from different backgrounds, a key aspect of what ESSA was designed to do.

Civil Rights advocates and educators have praised this part of the new law, which they hope will highlight inequities within schools and no longer allow “good” schools to overlook small groups of students who need more help.

“There needs to be a focus on these subgroups specifically because sometimes, when you’re looking at these schools as a whole, it can mask subgroup performance,” said Maggie Paino, director of accountability for the Indiana Department of Education.

Comprehensive support is similar to what are now priority schools.

Which schools would qualify?

Targeted support schools would be ones where groups of students — ethnic groups, English learners, low-income students or students with disabilities — score in the bottom 5 percent of state test-takers for at least two years in a row.

Technically, schools that have high overall grades could still fall into the targeted support category.

Schools that require comprehensive support include those that fall in the bottom 5 percent of passing state tests; any school that receives an F grade; or any high school where the four-year graduation rate is lower than 67 percent.

There’s also a way that schools could transition from targeted to comprehensive support: If a subgroup remains in bottom 5 percent for longer than the state deems appropriate (based on a timeline it gets to create) they will be considered as needing comprehensive support as well.

When do the new categories go into effect?

Beginning in 2018-19, using test results from 2017-18, the state will identify the schools that fall into the two categories, with one exception: Schools requiring comprehensive support based on how subgroups perform wouldn’t be identified for the first time until 2020-21.

The initial identification will happen in the fall, and then schools have the rest of the school year to plan. The state will also publish a list each of year of “at-risk” schools that are in the bottom 6 percent to 10 percent and high schools with graduation rates 70 percent or lower.

How can schools shake off the new labels?

If a school gets a C grade or better for two years in a row, it is no longer categorized as needing comprehensive support.

For schools in targeted support, they have five years to earn two consecutive C grades.

Both types of schools must also create a “strong plan” for how they will maintain their progress and how funding and other resources might change after they no longer need state support.

Do these schools get any extra money from the state to make their plans happen?

They do — multiple grants will be available.

Comprehensive support schools qualify for one to two years of extra Title I dollars to support their work improving their school. The money will be distributed by the state during the schools’ planning year after they are first identified.

Districts with four or more schools in comprehensive support can apply for additional grants to help them put in place bigger turnaround projects, such as transformation zones or innovation network schools.

How long can a school be labeled as comprehensive support?

Four years — the same as the state’s current accountability limit for F grades. After that, more serious consequences come into play.

At that point, Indiana State Board of Education can:

  • Merge the school with a nearby, higher-performing school.
  • Assign a special management team to run all or part of the school.
  • Allow the school to become part of a transformation zone.
  • Allow the school to become an innovation network school.
  • Accept recommendations from the Indiana Department of Education.
  • Delay action for another year if it thinks the majority of students are improving.
  • Close the school.
  • Employ other options as it sees fit.

The state board will continue discussing Indiana’s ESSA plan at its meeting next week.

You can find the state’s entire ESSA plan here and Chalkbeat’s ESSA coverage here.