Ferebee calls Cosby's concerns 'myths' as board approves plan for 2 high schools

The Indianapolis Public School Board tonight approved a $2.1 million contract to create “transformation zones” to try to improve two struggling high schools despite concerns from one board member.

Board member Gayle Cosby said she was afraid the deal could cost teachers their jobs.

But Superintendent Lewis Ferebee called those concerns “myths.” He hailed the agreement as a step forward that would help IPS avoid future state takeovers of low-scoring schools. The board voted 6-1 in favor of the contract with Boston-based Mass Insight Education. Cosby was the lone vote against it.

“I want to be very clear,” Ferebee said. “Staffing will work to support existing teachers and hiring. These schools are not being reconstituted. Teachers in those schools do not have to reapply for their jobs.”

But Cosby questioned why then the company’s plan proposes that all staff members in transformation zone schools reapply for their positions and to work under a “modified collective bargaining agreement.”

“I’m going to cut straight to the heart of the matter here,” Cosby said. “Myths don’t just appear out of nowhere. If they are myths, let’s take them out. It’s prudent for us to have our binding documents aligned with what we are saying.”

Board member Kelly Bentley said ultimately the board will decide what will happen to a school, not a consultant.

“I’m not concerned about it,” Bentley said. “I think the superintendent has indicated that’s not going to happen. We’ve got a contract with our teachers that won’t allow it to happen.”

Board member Caitlin Hannon voted yes and said it was her understanding that teachers would not have to reapply for their jobs.

But board member Sam Odle wasn’t so quick to rule out that possibility.

“I don’t want the public to think we’re never going to use that option,” Odle said, “but we’re going to use that option when our administration thinks that’s the best thing to do.”

Mass Insight’s engagement director, Ami Magunia, said her company has no intention of making decisions about staffing. She said the section in the proposal that mentions having teachers reapply for their jobs was part of a set of best practices and not a binding agreement.

“It’s not how we intend to proceed with this particular piece here,” Magunia said. “The work around staffing is about what suits the district.”

The “transformation zone” model, modeled after a similar approach in Evansville, groups troubled schools with schools that feed into them to try to identify struggling students early and giving more power to principals.

Mass Insight’s work will start at George Washington High School and Northwest High School beginning next fall. Two elementary schools that feed into each of the high schools also will receive extra supports: School 48 and School 107 for Northwest and School 49 and School 63 for George Washington.

“We believe this approach is a shift … to true transformation,” Ferebee said, “which we believe will be long lasting and sustainable.”