Future of Schools

Coming to Indianapolis: a public boarding school?

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
Students in Spanish IV discuss their goals for the year at Arlington High School on the first day of school.

Indianapolis Public Schools next year could consider bringing a free public boarding school — one of just a few in the country — to the city.

The concept behind the school is to prove a stronger academic school, and safer, more stable daily life, for poor children who sometimes live in chaotic homes and neighborhoods.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he would love to have a residential school as part of IPS’ offerings, and that it’s not an unrealistic idea.

“If you can find the right facility, make the updates without breaking the bank, it can have a tremendous impact for students,” Ferebee said. “We know our students need structure and consistency. In many cases, they’re not getting it.”

It’s a controversial idea that has been tried only a handful of cities, starting with the SEED school, which was the nation’s first college preparatory public boarding school when it opened in 1998 as a charter school in Washington, D.C. SEED now has schools in Baltimore and South Florida, and is developing a school in Ohio.

Public boarding schools are expensive, as they must cover the cost of both housing and educating children. And the idea that students are better off living at school than with their families has been the subject of some debate.

Former IPS principal Lauren Franklin suggested the idea at an IPS school board committee meeting. She is spending the next two years developing a plan for opening a high-quality school in Indianapolis, possibly in partnership with the district, as one of the Mind Trust’s innovation school fellows.

Heather Tsavaris, Marlon Llewellyn, Lauren Franklin and Earl Phalen (left to right) were the winners of The Mind Trust's $100,000 innovation school fellowships.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Heather Tsavaris, Marlon Llewellyn, Lauren Franklin and Earl Phalen (left to right) were the winners of The Mind Trust’s $100,000 innovation school fellowships.

Franklin and three other Mind Trust fellows told board members they hope to open up to three new schools, or use their ideas turn around existing IPS schools. If they partner with IPS, the schools would be accountable to the district but independently run. They told the school board about their plans tonight at a meeting.

Franklin said she was inspired to consider a boarding school by her niece and nephew, who went through a difficult time at home.

“They did not have stability,” Franklin said. “They did not always know where they were going to sleep. They didn’t know if they were going to get dinner. There were so many unknowns that absolutely impacted their school performance.”

After a change in custody, Franklin said her relatives are now thriving, and that it’s not a coincidence that some of the changes in their lives are as simple as having a designated dinner time, homework time and an opportunity to participate in school activities.

“I thought, if this can make this type of difference for two kids, why wouldn’t we want to do that for more students?” she said. “I want to make sure the needs of students are being addressed.”

Franklin was also inspired by the success of the SEED Schools, which were featured in the 2010 education documentary “Waiting for Superman” and touted as an example of urban education done right.

But the prospect of opening a public boarding school is expensive, especially for a district with an already delicate financial situation. Franklin said her first estimate is that it could cost around between $30,000 and $40,000 per student to run a residential school. Currently, IPS spends $4,861 in basic tuition support per student.

“It’s a very costly proposal,” said Franklin, who said she is also considering an alternative plan built around a longer school day that provides all the services of a residential facility without the students sleeping overnight. She’ll develop her idea over the next year and likely propose specific plan in the fall of 2015. The school wouldn’t open until at least 2016.

Ferebee, who has visited the SEED School in Washington, acknowledged a residential school comes with additional discipline and supervision concerns. But he said he was confident Franklin would develop an idea that’s workable for IPS.

“She’s one of our own who was fortunate to be selected (for the fellowship), and I have a lot of confidence in her leadership abilities,” Ferebee said. “She’ll come back with a really good idea.”

The innovation school that could open first is a school in partnership with the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school. That proposal is being developed jointly by Arlington High School dean Marlon Llewellyn and Earl Phalen, who operates a public charter school at 23rd and Illinois streets.

Phalen and Llewellyn will present their idea to the board Nov. 11, and a vote to approve the school to open next fall is expected at its Dec. 9 meeting.

Their concept also includes a longer school day and more school days each year but rather than start a new school, Phalen and Llewellyn are expected to propose taking control of a low-performing IPS school that has yet to be selected. The school would serve kindergarteners through sixth graders and would use a blended-learning model, in which students sometimes learn on computers and sometimes through traditional teacher-led classroom lessons.

Another idea being developed is an entrepreneurship-focused middle school. Heather Tsavaris, a former counter-terrorism official for the U.S. State Department, is hoping to find new ways to prepare students for high-tech careers.

Ferebee said he was encouraged by all of the presentations, and is looking forward to how the ideas are developed over the next months and years.

“It was a reminder tonight of how creative some of the ideas are,” Ferebee said. “They all could add value to our instructional program. They were selected for a reason.”

$1 billion

The tension between CPS enrollment declines and new schools

PHOTO: Tim Boyle/Getty Images
The West Loop neighborhood on the Near West Side is booming with new residents and corporate headquarters.

Chicago plans on opening a handful of schools in the next several years. But for whom?

Chicago Public Schools faces a critical decline in enrollment and is closing or phasing out four more schools on the city’s South Side as a result.

Yet the district just unveiled a new $1 billion capital plan that adds schools: an open-enrollment high school on the Near West Side and an elementary school in the Belmont Cragin community on the Northwest Side. That’s in addition to repurposing two old buildings to open classical schools in Bronzeville on the Near South Side and West Eldson on the Southwest Side.

CPS is soliciting feedback about the plan this Thursday ahead of next week’s board of education vote, but community organizers say the proposal shows a bias toward investments in or near high-growth, gentrifying areas of the city. Some complain the new schools will siphon enrollment and resources from current neighborhood options, and worry the schools are an election-year ploy that will exacerbate or enable gentrification. Others contend that the district’s spending still prioritizes white and mixed communities near downtown and on the North Side as opposed to majority black and Latino communities on the South and West sides.

Despite the criticism, and despite declines in city population and enrollment, CPS said it is taking a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to to creating new schools and academic opportunities. In a statement to Chalkbeat Chicago, CPS defended its decision to open new schools, despite enrollment declines, by citing community demand. And CPS CEO Janice Jackson told a room of business and nonprofit executives at the City Club of Chicago on Monday, “we can’t do great work without investing” — and not just in school staff, but in buildings themselves.

At a budget hearing later in the day, Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark stressed the money was being allocated “with a great deal of focus on local schools that in the past had legitimate reason to feel that they were not prioritized as they should (be).”

The problem, still, is fewer and fewer families are enrolling their students at CPS.

Enrollment is declining at Chicago Public Schools.

The roughly 371,000 students enrolled at CPS this year is a 15 percent decrease compared with the year 2000, when enrollment topped 435,000, according to CPS data. And there’s no sign the numbers will trend upward soon:  The district projects about 20,000 fewer students to enroll in the next three years. The trends mirror population drops in Chicago, which lost about 180,000 residents in that time frame, most of them African-American, according to census data.

One expert on neighborhood change in Chicago, Alden Loury of the Metropolitan Planning Council, said building new schools shouldn’t be part of a broad policy given the city’s population declines. However, he said new schools may make sense in certain areas.

“You may see pockets within the city where there’s a very clear difference happening,” he said.

Demographer Rob Paral, who publishes Chicago demographic data on his website, said while the city’s population might be down, some parts of the city that have grown, especially areas that are gentrifying and former white ethnic enclaves transformed by Latinos and immigrants.

“Chicago has got these microclimates when it comes to neighborhood change,” Paral said.

You’ll see what he’s saying in Belmont Cragin, a community just west of one of Chicago’s most popular gentrifying communities, where the population has ballooned as the overall city population has dropped.

A new elementary school for Belmont Cragin

Belmont Cragin is a quiet, working-class neighborhood full of single-family brick bungalows and two-flat apartments. Taquerias, Mexican boutiques, hair salons and auto bodies dominate commercial corridors that used to serve more Polish residents, who are concentrated on the northern end of the community.  Since 1990, Belmont Cragin’s population has increased 40 percent to 80,000 and changed from two-thirds white to 80 percent Latino. Paral said Latinos have moved from communities like Logan Square to the east, where gentrification pushed them out.

CPS said in its statement that community groups and leaders in Belmont Cragin advocated for the elementary school, and that CPS “shares these communities’ vision of expanding high-quality educational opportunities to children of all backgrounds.”

CPS wouldn’t say who in the Belmont Cragin community had asked for a new school. It wasn’t Rosa Reyes or Mariana Reyes (no relation). They said their children’s school, Burbank Elementary, is losing students and needing improvements to its roof, heating and cooling systems. The district labels Burbank, like most schools in Belmont Cragin, as efficiently using its space and not yet suffering  from under-enrollment — yet. Still, its student body is shrinking.

The mothers said CPS allowed a Noble Charter Network to open in 2014 that exacerbated enrollment declines at Steinmetz High School, and that the same happened to Burbank in 2013, when an UNO charter elementary opened a few blocks west of the school.

Steadily losing students costs Burbank funding, doled out per-pupil. . That’s why they the parents support CPS’ new school proposal.

“It will be taking from the local schools,” Rosa Reyes said.

A push for a Near West Side high school

Drive west from Chicago’s central business district and you’ll pass through the Near West Side, one of the city’s 77 official community areas. However, those official boundaries also contain a racially and economically diverse mix of neighborhoods. East of Ashland, you’ll see the West Loop, home to mostly white and affluent residents, pricy condos, trendy restaurants, and a booming business community that includes corporate headquarters for Google and McDonalds.

But west of Ashland, as you approach the United Center where the Chicago Bulls play, you’ll find more low-income residents, public housing, and African-American residents. Like Belmont Cragin, the Near West Side has witnessed immense population growth in recent decades. White people have flocked to the area, especially the affluent West Loop, while the black population has plummeted. In 1990, about 66 percent of Near West Side residents were black and 19 percent were white. Nearly 20,000 new residents have moved in since then. Today, the Near West Side is 30 percent black and 42 percent white.

CPS hasn’t announced where on the Near West Side it will put its proposed $70 million high school – but the community groups calling loudest for it are pro-business groups and neighborhood organizations led by mostly white professionals. The community group Connecting4Communities and the West Loop business organization the West Central Association have advocated for a new high school and see the mayor’s proposal as responsive to the growing community.

“Most of the high schools that people are comfortable sending their children to, the good ones, are selective enrollment,” said Executive Director Daniel O’Neill of Connecting4Communities.

He said that parents whose children don’t test into those schools—Jones College Prep, Whitney M. Young Academic Center, and Walter Payton College Prep —lack an acceptable option.

“Our neighborhood school, Wells, which is nowhere near our neighborhood, is so under-enrolled, and is not [a school] that people feel comfortable sending their children to,” he said. “When people see a school is so woefully under-enrolled, they just don’t have confidence in it.”

Wells Community Academy High School, which sits near the intersection of Ashland and Chicago avenues, also is mostly black and Latino, and mostly low income.

But O’Neill emphasized that high school request isn’t an effort to exclude any groups. He said the groups have a proposal for a new high school that draws on eight feeder schools, including a school serving a public housing development, to ensure the student body reflects the diversity of Chicago.

Loury of the planning council said it makes sense that as the Near West Side grows there’s a desire to satisfy that growing population. However, he found the idea of low enrollment at a predominately black and Latino school amid a boom in white population to be problematic. Parents might avoid sending their children to certain schools for various reasons, but a new building nearby furthers disinvestment in schools struggling to fill seats.

“It’s a pretty classic story in terms of Chicago and the struggles of integration and segregation,” he said.

A classical debate in Bronzeville

When it comes to CPS’ new school plans, line items don’t always mean new buildings, as evidenced by the two classical schools opening in existing structures in West Eldson on the Southwest Side and in Bronzeville on the South Side.  

Bronzeville Classical will open this fall as a citywide elementary selective enrollment school. Classical schools offer a rigorous liberal-arts curriculum to students who must test in. Last year, more than 1,000 students who qualified were turned away for lack of space, according to CPS, which is spending $40 million to expand three existing classical programs elsewhere.

“The district is meeting a growing demand for classical programs by establishing programs in parts of the city that do not have classical schools, like Bronzeville – making this high-quality programming more accessible to students in historically underserved neighborhoods,” the CPS statement read.

A spokeswoman for Alderman Pat Dowell, in whose ward the school is opening, responded to requests to interview the alderman with an emailed statement supporting the new Bronzeville school.

“It provides another quality educational option for families in Bronzeville and other nearby communities,” read the statement. “No longer will children from near south neighborhoods seeking a classical school education have to travel to the far southside, westside or northside for enrollment.”

However, some South Side residents see the classical school as problematic.

Natasha Erskine lives in Washington Heights on the Far South Side, but is Local School Council member at King College Preparatory High School in the Kenwood community near Bronzeville. She has a daughter enrolled at King, a selective enrollment high school. Before that, her daughter was in a gifted program at a nearby elementary school. Erskine supports neighborhood schools, but struggled finding schools that offered the kind of field trips and world language instruction many selective enrollment schools offer.

“I see the disparity, because it’s one we participate in it whether I like it or not,” she said.

Bronzeville is a culturally rich neighborhood known as Chicago’s “Black Metropolis,” where black migrants from the South forged a vibrant community during the Great Migration, building their own banks, businesses and cultural institutions.

And it retains a resilient core of committed black residents, but has suffered some decline and lost population like other black neighborhoods.  The community area that contains Bronzeville and Douglas has lost about half of its black population since 1990.

But Bronzeville is adjacent to the gentrified South Loop, which is grown increasingly white in recent years. And it’s a short drive  from Woodlawn, where the Obama Presidential Center is slated to be built. Paral, like other observers, predicts the Bronzeville is one of the areas between the South Loop and the Obama Library that will be further gentrified in coming years.

Jitu Brown, a longtime Chicago education organizer and community leader who heads the Journey for Justice Alliance, believes that the investments are an attempt to attract more white families to areas at a time when low-income people and African-Americans are being priced out and leaving the city. Brown added that creating more selective-enrollment schools is a different type of segregation: “You’re segregating talent.”

On Thursday, the district will solicit feedback about the spending plan via simultaneous public hearings at three different sites, Malcolm X College, Kennedy-King, and Truman College. Here are the details.

Who's leaving?

63 teachers are leaving Detroit’s main district. Here’s a list of their names and former schools.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Is your child’s favorite teacher saying goodbye to the Detroit Public Schools Community District?

Last week, Detroit’s main district released the names of 63 teachers and 55 building staff members who retired or resigned by the end of June. We have a list of their names and the schools where they worked.

Rather than leave classrooms during the school year, teachers typically choose to retire or switch school districts while students are on break. This is only the first wave of departures expected this summer — one reason schools in Detroit are racing to hire certified teachers by the fall.

But for Detroit families, the teachers on this list are more than a number. Scroll down to see if an educator who made a difference in your child’s life — or your own — is leaving the district.

Teacher and staff separations in June 2018. Source: Detroit Public Schools Community District