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Many parents praise — and some criticize — Jeffco superintendent’s statement on Charlottesville

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

Dozens of Jeffco public school parents praised the superintendent’s recent statement on the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Others criticized it, with some voicing concern that teachers might express political opinions in the classroom.

In the Aug. 16 statement, Superintendent Jason Glass said resources would be provided to teachers interested in talking about Charlottesville and that the district will not tolerate threats or harassment. He also invited feedback from members of the community.

In response to a request from Chalkbeat, Jeffco officials provided 63 messages sent to the district after Glass’s statement was posted on the district’s website and sent home as a letter to parents. The district redacted the senders’ names and email addresses. (See all responses below.)

About two-thirds of respondents thanked or otherwise lauded Glass for his statement.

One wrote, “Thank you so much for proactively sending out such an appropriate message. I think it’s fair to say many families with children of all ages have been struggling with this conversation.”

A district staff member, one of three who responded, wrote, “I am so glad we have a superintendent who is willing to address this issue directly!”

But not everyone was complimentary.

One parent wrote, “I’ll continue to teach my kids values. Please place your focus on Math and English. Once you’ve done that well, you can become concerned with civics and ethics. Stop doing a poor job at many things and focus on doing a few things well.”

Another wrote, “This should be a very easy lesson to teach. On racist drove his car into another group of opposing racists. Thats what my kids were taught. No need for you to worry about it.”

But some criticized Glass, who took the district’s top job this summer, for not going further.

One respondent wrote, “Is there a problem with calling Trump out by name? How can this be treated as a learning opportunity without the willingness to approach it with complete honesty? And please don’t tell me that you want to keep politics out of it.”

A couple parents asked for details about what Charlottesville resources district officials planned to share with teachers or students.

Others voiced concern about racist displays or incidents their kids had witnessed at Jeffco schools.

One parent wrote, “There is more than one student over at Arvada West that displays the Confederate Flag out of the backs of their pickup trucks. They are referred to as the “Concrete Cowboys”. My student was upset by their racist behaviors. Why was this type of display tolerated on school grounds last year? Will it continue this year? I hope no.”

Another parent wrote, “My son mentioned many times last year of students using the n word and making anti Semitic statements. I think they need to be told this is not ok or allowed.”

District spokeswoman Diana Wilson said in an email message that the district’s achievement director or school principals have followed up on any specific incidents mentioned in the emails to Glass. In cases where complaints were vague, she said school leaders were informed and asked to be alert for any violations of district policy.

Wilson said district officials have heard the complaint about Confederate flags being displayed in vehicles at Arvada West High School previously. This time, officials discovered the vehicle displaying the flag belonged to a graduate who spends time near the school but not on school property. She said the school’s principal is tracking the situation.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”