One month into school year, IPS still searching for three principals

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

The first month of school has come and gone, and Indianapolis Public Schools is still searching for principals to lead two of its best-performing elementary schools and a struggling school on the North side.

The school board tonight approved hiring Duane Krambeck to be the principal at School 82, an East side school that has earned D’s from the state the past two years because of its students’ poor performance on the ISTEP exam.

That leaves School 90, School 56 and School 43 still without principals. Each building has an interim leader, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. The goal is to have full-time interim principals, but that doesn’t always happen if that person is retired.

Having schools with temporary leaders for more than a month to start the school year is a problem the leader of Stand for Children, an advocacy group that pushes for change in the district, said is a symptom of the challenge the district faces when it comes to principal retention.

“In a perfect world, everybody including Dr. Ferebee would want to see those positions filled already,” said Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children. “There’s a larger issue of retention and attracting top principal talent, and that’s going to be an issue that’s a focus in the medium and long term.”

But Ferebee, who put principals across the district on notice last December when he decided not to renew contracts for 20 administrators because of poor performance, said tonight the district is getting close to having qualified, full-time leaders in all its schools.

The delays, he said, resulted from the district’s new principal selection process. The district changed its approach to picking principals to include input from a wider group of people, including parents.

He said search committees have nearly finished finding leaders for School 43 and for School 90, which lost its principal Mark Pugh earlier this year to another district that offered him more money.  The third search is underway.

School 56 lost its principal Lauren Franklin when she accepted a $100,000 Innovation School Fellowship with The Mind Trust. She currently is taking a year off to develop a plan to create a new, innovative school reform plan and will present her proposal to overhaul an IPS school to the school board next year.

But the problem of principal retainment could still to haunt Ferebee even after he fills the three remaining spots. He said last month 14 other administrators are on notice that their contracts might not be renewed this year due to poor performance. Several more principals are nearing retirement age, he said.

Ohlemiller said the tactics Ferebee is using — including giving principals recruitment and performance bonuses to turn around struggling schools — appear to be the right ones to solve the problem.

“What we’ve been really happy to see from Ferebee is a focus on principal leadership and trying to tackle that moving forward,” Ohlemiller said. “The process is a lot more thoughtful and deliberative, not just getting a principal, but trying to get the right principal.”

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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.