Indiana

Giving details, Ferebee says his plan will have vast scope

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Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and board President Diane Arnold

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s plan to reorganize Indianapolis Public Schools’ leadership will require a “sizeable number” of his central office team to reapply for their jobs as the large-scale effort will both shrink the district’s management structure and refine its functions.

In an exclusive interview, Ferebee expanded on Friday’s short announcement of the reorganization on the district’s Web site, which lists a handful of new positions.

Ferebee declined to give key specifics, such as how many administrators will be given notice before the end of the year that they will have to reapply, what positions will be redefined, how many jobs will be cut or how much savings might be expected when all the changes are complete. But he called Friday’s announcement the first of at least three steps toward overhauling the way the district is managed.

There will be another round of of job realignments for the academic team next, followed by a similar process for the central office operations team, Ferebee said. In each case, a top deputy will be selected to oversee and realign employee groups. The academic team is led by Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand.

The systematic overhaul he described might have been unthinkable a year ago under former Superintendent Eugene White, who rejected the notion that the downtown bureaucracy saddled IPS. But the new superintendent’s charge is to make change and a majority of the school board members have publicly stated support for his plan.

The move was praised by board members and others who have called for a new direction in IPS’ management structure.

“This seems to be a pretty big shift in what needs to happen and a positive shift for the district,” said David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis education-focused non-profit that called for a deep cut in administrative spending two years ago.

Board members said they are behind the new superintendent and his plan, even if they recognize it puts many longtime administrators on the spot.

“Are people nervous? Probably so,” school board President Diane Arnold said. “My sense is change is difficult and it may be a scary time for some of them. Anytime you have a change of leadership there is consternation by employees. But we hired somebody to get different results. To get different results, you have to shake things up.”

At the end of the process, expected to be complete in late February, there will be fewer administrators and less spending downtown, Ferebee said. But the primary goal, he said, was assuring IPS had high quality leaders and an effective organizational design.

“We’re not going to create our organizational structure around adults,” he said. “We’re gong to create our structure around the needs of our students. If people in our organization are not performing at a high level we are going to give them an opportunity to improve but we want the most talented individuals leading our district.”

Battling bureacracy

IPS’ central office-led bureaucracy has been a target of heavy criticism in recent years as wasteful and ineffective.

In 2011, a bracing report from The Mind Trust suggested IPS could save as much as 80 percent of the $53 million it spends annually on managerial functions, in part by eliminating more than 445 jobs. The report suggested giving schools freedom to control their own budgets and hiring, suggesting the central office could be reduced to providing only basic services.

At the time, White rejected the notion that the central office was so wasteful, presenting a counter plan that offered to cut just 15 jobs.

But a newly elected school board majority forced White out in January and Ferebee came on as his permanent replacement this fall with a rethinking of how IPS operates as a top agenda item.

Ferebee said the job cuts and savings from his plan has not yet been determined but that it was nowhere near the Mind Trust’s vision.

“We will realize some savings but to think we can create a significant savings just by reducing central services? I think that’s not a good way to think about where we need to be,” he said. “We’re not going to get to a very large number. But it helps.”

That’s OK, Harris said, if in fact the district moves in the direction of spending more at the classroom level and giving high-scoring schools more freedom to control their budgets and hiring. Over time, if schools are given more autonomy, more savings may be realized, he said.

“It seems like they are clearly moving in the right direction,” he said. “If they’re looking at how they can send more dollars to schools by shrinking the central office, it does seem like dollars can be best spent at the school level where they can have the most impact on students.”

Several board members were elected in 2012 promising to offer more autonomy to schools. This plan moves toward that vision, board member Gayle Cosby said.

“It speaks to a lot of goals of the board, reorganizing in a way that is less top down with more resources to schools,” she said.

New faces in key roles

The board on Tuesday approved Toneysha Amos for the new job of director of innovation and transformation, a key post in the new administrative structure. Amos was an academic coach in Greensboro, N.C., where Ferebee formerly was a regional superintendent. Legrand is also a former Greensboro regional superintendent.

Amos’s job, Ferebee said, will be to coordinate services for “priority schools,” those that have been persistently rated D or F or have shown low growth.

Outside hires at the top of the organization can give the district new perspectives, said board member Michael Brown. Brown is the board’s lone holder from a once solid majority who regularly supported White in debates over the district’s future.

“When you bring in fresh blood, they’re not wedded to anybody. They can actually assess the talent,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great people in the district, but a lot are in the wrong seats on the bus.”

Another former Greensboro educator appears headed to one of the district’s most troubled high schools.

Ashauna Short, a Greensboro assistant principal, was hired by the board Tuesday and will take the helm as principal of John Marshall High School.

The school for grades 7 to 12 nearly faced state takeover in 2012 before the Indiana State Board of Education agreed to try White’s reform plan instead. The school’s test scores are among the lowest in the state and it’s middle school passing rate dropped last year after the new plan was put in place.

Tough choices ahead

IPS is headed for tough financial decisions when it begins work on next year’s budget in the spring. Last year, interim Superintendent Peggy Hinckley revealed that IPS faced a $30 million structural deficit. She undertook her own cost-cutting effort, including layoffs, but dipped into reserve funds to balance the budget.

Hinckley said matching IPS’ revenues and expenses to avoid future deficit spending would almost certainly require several school closings as early as 2014.

The district is also undergoing a review of it’s operations by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, due early next year, aimed at finding additional ways to save money.

There are reasons to believe IPS could be far more efficient, Harris said.

“If you look at the overhead of the central operations of the mayor’s charter school office,” he said, “and the results they get from those charter schools, it suggests you can get good results with less overhead.”

 

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede