Indiana

School 90's success built on teaching and discipline

(Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, Chalkbeat wrote about the departure from Indianapolis Public Schools of School 90 Principal Mark Pugh, who led the school during a five-year run of dramatically improved test scores. In 2012, I wrote about School 90 in a story for the Indianapolis Star that looked at five Indiana schools that were rated A despite high percentages of students with three big challenges — family poverty, a need for special education services and those who are still learning English as a second language.

The five schools also included IPS School 79, Warren Township’s Sunny Heights Elementary School, Clinton Young Elementary School in Perry Township and the Christel House Academy charter school. Each school shared five attributes: Careful hiring, a systematic approach to discipline, routine use of data to make decisions, good leadership and efforts to reduce wasted time in the school day. Below are some excerpts from that story about Pugh’s work at School 90.)

What most distinguished Pugh’s work at School 90 from that of the other challenged A schools was his aggressive recruiting of quality staff:

Mary Mayfield was pretty shocked when Mark Pugh — a principal at another school — showed up to observe her teaching the day after she put her name on the district’s list of teachers seeking transfers.

“I hadn’t even told my principal,” she said.

Pugh, the principal at School 90, doesn’t wait for good teachers to come to him. Watching the transfer list like a hawk is just one strategy he employs to build the best teaching staff he can.

“When I’m bringing somebody in, I want to find the right people for the job and allow them to do their job,” Pugh said. “I try my very best to hire quality teachers. Then I try to provide them with tools and the environment and support they need.”

Crafting an effective team, one that works well together and has good skills for the types of issues children bring to school, is a focus for all five principals.

Pugh worked with the staff at School 90 to build trust and collaboration:

Still, building an effective, cohesive team is not easy.

“It is a challenge to build camaraderie,” Pugh said. “Teachers by their nature are territorial. It is unique to have a group of teachers work as well as they are working here.”

At School 90, Pugh interviews a job candidate and then lets teachers interview the candidate as well. Afterward, they discuss the candidate’s individual strengths and how well the person might fit in.

“It isn’t magic,” School 90 social worker Lisa Spurrier said. “It’s something we’ve worked toward. When we get a new person in, it takes time.”

Why does it work so well at School 90 right now?

“We like each other,” Mayfield said with a smile, “and we’re all quirky.”

School 90 was very demanding when it came to discipline:

At School 90, Pugh is accustomed to explaining to parents why their kids face discipline even for small dress code violations, such as missing socks or lacking a belt. It doesn’t matter if it’s an A student.

Violators head to the “guided learning center,” a sort of penalty box classroom where students complete the day’s work without any contact with others.

“I had a conversation at recess one day with a girl who was new to our school,” said Mary Mayfield, the School 90 teacher. “She said, ‘You know how it’s really easy to get in trouble here? At my old school it was really hard to get in trouble.’ It’s because we care so much. We’re on them.”

But it’s not just about punishment.

Take School 90’s approach to attendance. Students with perfect attendance are announced daily. At the end of the week, they are entered in a drawing for a small prize.

When problems arose at School 90, the staff looked to data to try to solve them:

Three years ago, Pugh noticed teachers were reporting a large number of students who were disciplined for not finishing homework.

He went room to room, asking, “What’s going on?”

“You could see the patterns,” he said. “We talked as a staff about making sure homework assignments are relevant. The intent of homework is to review what you’ve done that day and prepare for the following day. You can’t just send home spelling words to be written five times.”

Better homework assignments — more interesting and intellectually challenging — worked. The frequency of students disciplined for failing to complete homework dropped.

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