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.”

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”