In the Classroom

TeachPlus names 30 new fellows to study teaching policy

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

The Indianapolis chapter of TeachPlus, a national organization that aims to get teachers involved in education policy making, has named 30 new “teaching policy fellows.”

It’s the fourth group of TeachPlus fellows named in Indianapolis since the group launched locally in 2009. The fellows in August will begin the 16 month fellowship during which they will study problems that face teachers and work to find and promote possible solutions.

The group, which is led by IPS board member Caitlin Hannon as its Indianapolis executive director, has been a catalyst over the the past six months in spurring discussion about the problem of teacher pay in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Some ideas suggested in response to the group’s work have prompted debate among board members.

In March, the group invited every district teacher, with the union’s blessing, to attend a simulation run by Education Resource Strategies, a Boston-based non-profit that consults with school districts to help them better utilize their resources.

In small groups, they conducted an exercise in which they tried to create a new pay system for an IPS-like fictional school district. Several of the teachers said the activity helped them better appreciate the difficult challenge of finding new ways for teachers to make more money while living within the confines of the current system. Based on the options the majority of teachers chose during the exercise, a report authored by the fellows made recommendations for how IPS might change its pay system.

Working with top IPS administrators and Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, Hannon has since suggested hiring ERS to help the district with planning and preparation for offering new pay proposals as negotiations with the teachers union are set to begin in August.

But some of Hannon’s fellow board members balked the the potential cost and asked for any such contract to be competitively bid. Talks on the issue continue.

In 2013, TeachPlus fellows issued a report based on a survey of 500 IPS and charter school teachers that questioned systems of hiring and assigning teachers. The report found 85 percent of teachers surveyed had changed schools at least once by their fourth year of teaching, most against their will.

The new cohort will search for issues to study as it meets to discuss education issues in Marion County.

Of the 30 teachers, nine work for IPS, seven for township schools, 11 for charter schools and three work at former IPS schools now being run independently in state takeover by groups that contract with the Indiana State Board of Education. Five of them were named teacher of the year at their schools.

The new fellows are:

Charter Schools

  • Daniel Allen of Indiana Math and Science Academy West
  • Monique Keck of Indiana Math and Science Academy North
  • Jacob Kettlewell of Avondale Meadows Academy
  • Nicole Russell of Avondale Meadows Academy
  • Sabrina Roberts of Paramount School of Excellence
  • Jessica Monk of Paramount School of Excellence
  • Andrew Pillow of KIPP Indy
  • Melissa Scherle of KIPP Indy
  • Megan Kuehl of Tindley Renaissance
  • Ronak Shah of Tindley Prep
  • Becky Boruff of Christel House Academy South
  • Liz Retana of Carpe-Diem

Township Schools

  • Nikki Babladelis of Chapelwood Elementary School in Wayne Township
  • Erin Currie of Ben Davis High School in Wayne Township
  • Robbie Foote of Ben Davis High School in Wayne Township
  • Dane Butts of Warren Central High School in Warren Township
  • Carlota Holder of Creston Middle School in Warren Township
  • Sadie Stevens of Greenbriar Elementary in Washington Township
David Wheeler of North Central High School in Washington Township

State Takeover Schools

  • Chelsea Easter of Arlington High School
  • Brittany Scherer of Arlington High School
  • Sue Brennan of Manual High School

IPS Schools

  • Eve Montgomery of Arsenal Tech High School
  • Caitlin Smith of Arsenal Tech High School
  • Madeline Mason of Harshman Middle School
  • Eddie Rangel of Key Learning Community
  • Courtney Singleton of School 99
  • Julie Metcalf of School 61
  • Rebecca Johnson of School 58
  • Jessica Watson of Cold Spring School and School 56

talking SHSAT

Love or hate the specialized high school test, New York City students take the exam this weekend

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
At a town hall this summer in Brooklyn's District 15, parents protested city plans to overhaul admissions to elite specialized high schools.

The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test has been both lauded as a fair measure for who gets accepted to the city’s most coveted high schools — and derided as the cause for starkly segregating them.

This weekend, the tense debate is likely to be far from the minds of thousands of students as they sit for the three-hour exam, which currently stands as the sole admissions criteria for vaunted schools such as Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.

All the debate and all the policy stuff that’s been happening —  it’s just words and there really isn’t anything concrete that’s been put into place yet. So until it happens, they just continue on,” said Mahalia Watson, founder of the website Let’s Talk Schools, an online guide for parents navigating their school options.

Mayor Bill de Blasio this summer ignited a firestorm with a proposal to nix the SHSAT and instead offer admission to top middle school students across the city. Critics say the test is what segregates students, offering an advantage to families who can afford tutoring or simply are more aware of the importance of the exam. Only 10 percent of specialized high school students are black or Hispanic, compared to almost 70 percent of all students citywide.

For some, the uproar, coupled with a high profile lawsuit claiming Harvard University discriminates against Asian applicants, has only added to the pressure to get a seat at a specialized school. Asian students make up about 62 percent of enrollment at specialized high schools, and families from that community have lobbied hard to preserve the way students are admitted.

One Asian mother told Chalkbeat in an email that, while she believes in the need for programs that promote diversity, the SHSAT is “a color blind and unbiased” admissions measure. Her daughter has been studying with the help of test prep books, and now she wonders whether it will be enough.  

“In my opinion, options for a good competitive high school are very limited,” the mom wrote. “With all the recent news of the mayor trying to change the admission process to the specialized high schools and the Harvard lawsuit makes that more important for her to get acceptance.”

Last year, 28,000 students took the SHSAT, and only 5,000 were offered admission. Among this year’s crop of hopeful students is Robert Mercier’s son, an eighth grader with his sights set on High School of American Studies at Lehman College.

Mercier has encouraged his son to study for the test — even while hoping that the admissions system will eventually change. His son plays catcher on a baseball team and is an avid debater at school, activities that Mercier said are important for a well-rounded student and should be factored into admissions decisions.

“If you don’t do well on that one test but you’ve been a great student your whole career,” Mercier said, “I just don’t think that’s fair and I don’t think that’s necessarily a complete assessment of a student’s abilities or worth.”

Teacher's tale

Video: This Detroit teacher explains how she uses her classroom to ‘start a real loud revolution’

Silver Danielle Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy, tells her story at the Tale the Teacher storytelling event on October 6, 2018.

Silver Danielle Moore doesn’t just see teaching as way to pass along information to students. She views teaching as a way to bring about change.

“The work of us as educators is to start a real loud revolution,” Moore told the audience this month at a teacher storytelling event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat. “The revolution will not happen without resistance, and social justice classrooms are the instruments of that resistance.”

Moore, a teacher at the Detroit Leadership Academy charter school, was one of four Detroit educators who told their stories on stage at the Tale the Teacher event held at the Lyft Lounge at MusicTown Detroit on October 6.

The event, organized by Western International High School counselor Joy Mohammed, raised about $120 that Mohammed said she used to buy a laptop for a student who needed it to participate on the school’s yearbook staff.

Over the next few weeks, Chalkbeat will be posting videos of the stories told at the event.

Moore, a self-proclaimed “black hip-hop Jesus feminist” opened her story with a memory of leaving a teacher training session four years ago to travel to Ferguson, Missouri, to be part of Labor Day weekend protests after Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot by a police officer.

“There was so much grief but also so much fight in that place,” she recalled. “I will never forget the moment I stood at the place that Mike Brown was killed. I will never forget the look in his mother’s face.”

She recalled bringing that experience back to Detroit and to her classroom.

“Imagine, after that weekend, returning back to the classroom on September 2nd,” she said. “I fought that weekend for Mike Brown … but I also did it for the 66 kids I would have that school year and every child I have had since then.”

Watch Moore’s full story here:

Video by Colin Maloney

More in Detroit story booth