Future of Schools

Ritz blames Pence, CECI for "undermining" her leadership

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz reached an agreement on how to handle a predicted drop in ISTEP passing rates for 2015.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz today ripped Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, saying it is “determined to undermine our work” at the Indiana Department of Education, and charged that the State Board of Education’s proposed actions Wednesday could threaten Indiana’s standing with federal education officials.

“The Board has made it clear that they will not listen to me or the department,” she said in a statement. “I have asked that the governor remove this resolution from consideration tomorrow before our schools and students suffer the consequences.“

A different resolution on the board’s agenda for Wednesday that would create a board committee to consider a proposal that would shift authority for determining when and where the board meets from Ritz to CECI and allow board members to appeal any ruling she makes during the meeting has already drawn the ire of Ritz’s allies, including the Indiana State Teachers Association.

But the board on Wednesday will also reconsider a resolution that prompted the latest debate over who has more authority to guide state education policy, Ritz and the education department or Pence and CECI.

On June 23, Ritz refused to allow a vote on a resolution board member Brad Oliver offered that addressed Indiana’s status with the U.S. Department of Education.

Oliver and others complained that they felt Ritz’s team failed to provide information to the board in a timely manner about her answer to a request from federal officials about how the state would keep promises it made in 2012 in return for a waiver from sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Oliver said the board wanted to clarify for federal officials that it opposed a suggestion from Ritz to allow a one-year reprieve for Indiana schools from the consequences that accompany A to F school grades, such as the possibility of state takeover for those who earn six straight F grades.

Oliver argued the grades and accountability were required by state law. In addition, the resolution suggests the state board would not agree in advance to any changes Ritz might propose to state tests.

Ritz’s supporters saw the resolution as an attack on her work to reassure federal officials that the state would not violate the terms of its waiver. But today Ritz said the resolution could actually harm Indiana’s chances of keeping the waiver.

“Let me be clear,” Ritz said. “If passed, this resolution will place our waiver in serious jeopardy. This resolution unfairly questions the honesty and capacity of my administration to implement the waiver and may result in ramifications from Washington.”

A U.S. Department of Education spokesman could not be immediately reached for a response. But CECI rejected the notion that the state board was harming the waiver effort.

“It’s unfortunate these discussions couldn’t have taken place earlier as requested by the board on multiple occasions,” CECI spokeswoman Lou Ann Baker said in  a statement. “The board has every confidence that U.S. Department of Education will review the (Indiana) Department of Education’s proposal on its merits as submitted.”

Ritz said she strongly favors keeping the waiver but blamed Pence’s appointees for obstructing her efforts.

“Unfortunately, the governor-appointed State Board of Education and his separate education staff appear determined to undermine our work,” she said.

Federal officials sent Ritz a letter in May giving 60 days for her to explain how Indiana would address areas of concern about the waiver.

NCLB, signed in 2002, requires state to establish testing and accountability systems to raise all children to proficiency in math and English. But test score growth expectations in NCLB that many states complained were unrealistically tough led President Obama’s administration to permit “waivers” from some of those rules.

Indiana was approved to use its own A to F school grading system for accountability under the waiver and pledged to adopt Common Core academic standards to meet a requirement to follow standards that would produce graduates who are “college and career ready.”

Among the concerns federal officials wanted Indiana to address is how its new standards will ensure college and career readiness now that the state legislature has voided its adoption of Common Core.

The letter also raised questions about whether Indiana was adequately overseeing and supporting schools that are identified as poor performers, and Ritz’s critics blamed her for what they said was poor state education department oversight.

Ritz’s team submitted its response by the June 30 deadline and is awaiting word on how it was received.


A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:

A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”