Ferebee interested in longer school days or school year for some schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

(Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, sat down with Chalkbeat Indiana Bureau Chief Scott Elliott on Monday night at the downtown public library for a one-on-one interview sponsored by WFYI. The full interview will be broadcast online next week but Chalkbeat is publishing some excerpts in the interim. Go here for Ferebee’s comments about middle schools and high schools.)

With more than half of Indianapolis Public Schools rated a D or F, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is looking for ideas for how to overhaul those low performers, and big potential changes are on the table. Among the possible strategies: longer school days or a longer school year at some schools.

Already, Ferebee has backed a bill that passed the legislature in March allowing him to partner with charter schools or other outside groups to try to improve low rated schools. Now the district has partnered with The Mind Trust and Mayor Greg Ballard’s office to create a fellowship to allow educators with smart reform ideas to spend a year developing them into plans that could be used at IPS schools.

In the interview this week, Ferebee said he believes some of IPS’s successful schools have already found ways to essentially add learning hours for their students, sometimes through volunteerism in the schools or community partnerships. For kids who are far behind, he said, that approach may be simply necessary.

Any plan for more hours or school days for teachers could raise concerns from the district’s teachers union. Its leaders have complained recently that Ferebee has not done a good job of communicating with them.

Here is more of what Fererbee had to say about this from the interview, and some responses from the union:

IPS has 10 A rated schools. Several of those are magnet schools but some or typical neighborhood schools. How are they overcoming the odds?

In Indianapolis, our choice schools still are the schools rising to the top as it relates to performance. That’s our charter schools and our magnet schools. I like to believe that our magnet schools are outperforming our charter schools. But our choice environments typically do better.

Where we have pockets of success, and we need more schools rising to the top, would be our neighborhood schools. Our neighborhood schools that are doing really well, typically you’ll find a strong leader, you will find a curriculum or instructional program that is embodied or embraced by the entire staff. You will also find a school that has tremendous wrap around services.

Typically in those schools you’ll see leaders or staff members who have gone out to the community and garnered community support where not only students are receiving additional supports in the school but they’re also receiving those supports from community organizations during the day or outside the school day.

Many of those schools have also mastered the art of extending the school day. You’ll find enrichment activities after school, opportunities for remediation during the day or after school as well. You’ll see in those schools they are moving the needle by providing those additional opportunities for students and families.

Do we need a longer school day or school year to meet the needs of children in IPS?

There’s definitely interest, particularly where we have students who are below grade level two or more years. The research is very clear, especially in literacy. If you are more than two years behind you need at least 90 to 120 minutes more of instruction compared to those students who are on grade level to get on grade level and surpass those students with achievement. What we have to do is find creative ways to ensure students get that time.

Unfortunately students may get that time by losing out on something else. I’d like to see us explore options where students get the arts, they get the physical activity they need and still get that remediation time. Sometimes I think that may require us to have a longer school day for select students or select schools.

The traditional 180 day, six and a half hour model is antiquated. If you look at many of the charter schools in Indianapolis that are getting results, you either see a longer school day or a longer school year. I think that’s something we need to explore for IPS.

How will you manage the process of working with the teachers union?

I think every superintendent and education association in a bargaining situation will have differences of opinion. They have a constituency they need to support and represent and I have to assure that our students get what they need. I think sometimes people don’t realize one is adult interest and another is student interest. But I believe we can find common ground as it relates to ensuring our families and students get what they need.

But we will have to sit down at the table for bargaining to work through issues such as compensation. It’s been a while since we had a significant increase in pay in some form. We also have a situation where it’s costing our employees more for their benefits, which ultimately impacts them at the end of the day as it relates to what they take home. That’s going to be something that we have to look at.

I look forward to having those discussions. As I said to you earlier I’m a teacher at heart. I want to make sure that our teachers are taken care of, as well as other staff members that support our students. I’m hoping that we can preserve reserves in such a way where we are preparing for the future while at the same time address the compensation needs that we have for our employees.

Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the district’s teachers union, addressed questions about the district’s relationship with the union, and the idea of extending the school day or year, after the Innovation School Fellowships were announced. Cornett was perturbed that the union had not been told in advance about the fellowships. She also said Ferebee may need to be brought up to speed on the union’s past flexibility, which included allowing schools to extend the school day provided there was extra pay for teachers.

Here is Cornett’s response to Ferebee:

My problem with (the fellowship proposal) is they keep saying they’re talking to us but we didn’t have a clue what was happening tonight. We’ve done the longer days at John Marshall (High School). We agreed and compensation was offered to the teachers. We don’t have a problem with trying new things at all. We have excellent teachers with excellent ideas. I want to see some IPS teachers, and not just one, in the group (of innovation school fellows).


defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.