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.”

Sticker shock

In Illinois, child care costs eclipse rent, making it one of least affordable states  

The average annual cost of child care now outpaces what families spend on a year of rent in Illinois, according to a new report that examines child care costs nationwide.

Illinois is one of the 15 least affordable states in the country, according to the report from the Virginia-based nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. The nonprofit examined costs across the United States and adjusted them for median income and cost of living.

“Families are seeing that child care is a significant portion of the bill they have to pay,” rivaling the cost of college tuition, rent, and even sometimes mortgage payments in some areas of the country, said Dionne Dobbins, senior director of research at Child Care Aware.  

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant in Illinois has reached $13,474 — which is a staggering 52 percent of the median income of a single-parent family in the state and nearly 15 percent of the state’s median married couple’s income.

That figure put it 13th among the least affordable states, which were ranked by the percentage of a single-parent family’s income spent on child care. Massachusetts topped out at nearly 65 percent of a single-parent family’s median income for center-based infant care.

In Illinois, care for toddlers and older children before and after school also consumed a greater percentage of a family’s income compared with other states. Illinois ranked 14th for toddler care as a percentage of median income, with an average cost of $11,982 for full-time toddler care at a center.

The state was among least affordable for the cost of three months of summer care.


Illinois offers a child care subsidy intended to offset the costs of care for low-income working families, but that program has been rocked by shifting eligibility requirements and compliance issues. Participation in the program has dropped by a third since 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration changed eligibility requirements.

Dobbins said that, across the United States, child care subsidy programs are under pressure as states tighten compliance and lower reimbursement rates. In some states like Illinois, rising minimum wages have rendered some families ineligible for subsidies or staring down co-pays that they can’t afford.

Dobbins said that nationally, only one in six children eligible for subsidized child care actually ends up using it.


words of advice

Here’s advice from a social worker on how schools can support transgender students right now

PHOTO: Getty Images
A flag for transgender and gender noncomforming people is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park.

Soon after news broke that the Trump administration could further roll back civil rights protections for transgender students, one New York City teacher sent an email blast to her fellow educators.

She was searching for materials to use in biology class that reflect people of different gender identities, but couldn’t find anything.

Many city educators may similarly grapple with how to support transgender students after it was reported that the Trump administration is considering whether to narrowly define gender based on a person’s biology at birth — a move that could have implications for how sex discrimination complaints in schools are handled under federal Title IX.

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg — a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center — has some tips for navigating the questions and emotions this latest proposal might surface. He runs a support group for transgender teens and their peers who want to be allies, and says the most important advice is to just be willing to talk and listen.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis,” he said. “By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support.”

Here’s what he had to say about recognizing transgender students, the protections that New York City and state offer, and some mistakes to avoid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your tips for how to explain the news to students and young people?

If it’s news like this, that’s hard to maybe pin down what it exactly means (this was a memo, and does it have teeth? What does it mean?) I would look to them for the feeling of it. That’s what’s really important and a lot of what’s going on is just fear mongering, and a denial of trans existence. And that is something our young people will be able to speak to, to no end, and that they’re not strangers to — especially under this administration.

I would want to help ground things and offer some reassurance that a memo doesn’t have teeth and that we can look to our local New York City and state protections — that we’re lucky to live in a place that has such strong protections, especially for students.

What kinds of protections should New York City students expect to have in schools?

A student in New York City could expect to use the facilities that align with their identity, and could expect to possibly see all-gender facilities in their schools — as there are more and more of those being converted. They can expect to be able to file or register a complaint of discrimination against other students or even staff, and can expect to have an LGBT liaison within the Department of Education. They can expect to have their name and pronoun respected and utilized, and come up with a plan with a staff member around, if they’re transitioning socially or in any form at school, how they would like to be supported and how that looks in each unique situation.

It doesn’t always happen. But the fact that we do have it in policy means that there’s a means to pursuing it and that the institution is on the side of the trans or gender non-conforming student and would help to rectify any situation that’s feeling unsafe or unsupportive.

How can teachers and adults show support for their transgender students right now?

I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis. It shouldn’t be necessarily on any student to bring it up. By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support. Even though this is a memo and we’re all waiting to see what they’re going to try to do with it, we know the intentions behind it…

I think we can speak directly to that and not make the debate about, ‘Is there or isn’t there a trans experience?’ That’s maybe one of the most powerful things. Yes, we exist. And if you’re an ally: ‘I’m a witness. You exist. You’re valid and as valid as anybody else.’

What would that validation look like in a school setting, say, if you’re a math teacher?

I think that making things visible is powerful. So if there’s a public bulletin board in a hallway and it says, ‘We stand with our trans staff and students,’ and then people have an opportunity to sign it.

I really think it can be an individualized response by a school depending on that school’s culture and if there is leadership by students, say, ‘We would like to be vocal and explicit in our support. You come up with the idea.’ Or, not to put it on them but say, ‘We’d love to be guided or get input from you on how to do that,’ so it is, wherever possible youth and trans-led.

Say, ‘What do you need and what can we provide?’

What should teachers and adults avoid saying or doing at a time like this?

I think a common, misguided mistake — that’s not necessarily hateful, but is really harmful nonetheless — is propping up a debate that’s going to hinge on ‘Do trans people exist?’ Or, ‘Defend or argue against sex being a binary, scientific, biological basis to view narrowly.’  

If a teacher wanted to engage with this but the assignment were more like, ‘What are your thoughts,’ there is so much education that needs to be done first — and that can put a person’s very identity and being up for debate in a classroom setting.

Another really bad thing would be just to ignore it because people are maybe scared of going there or don’t know what to do.