Building Better Schools

Merging with John Marshall is IPS' top choice for Arlington's future

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

If it was up to Indianapolis Public Schools, the district would opt to merge John Marshall and Arlington high schools for the 2015-16 school year.

The idea was presented as Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s favorite of three options he presented to an Indiana State Board of Education committee for what to do with Arlington High School next year. The school was taken over by the state in 2012 after six straight years of F grades for poor test scores but Tindley Schools, a charter school network brought in to run the school, said this summer it wants out of managing the school.

Ferebee said the best solution is to give IPS control over Arlington again, arguing a merger with John Marshall was an opportunity to offer students improved learning opportunities and better use the district’s building space.

“We believe (merging) provides a win for both John Marshall and Arlington communities,” Ferebee said. “And we believe that this particular option also provides greater consistency for students.”

Although Tindley and IPS worked out a deal for the 2014-15 school year, Tindley has said it cannot afford to keep running Arlington. State board members were surprised no one from Tindley attended the meeting, saying they had hoped to hear ideas from the network for transitioning Arlington to new management.

A network official said that was not the right role for Tindley to play.

“Until the state board decides how to transition Arlington High School, any predictions from Tindley on how a transition might work are premature,” spokeswoman Bev Rella said in a statement.

Merging the East side high schools would allow Arlington to grow its enrollment enough to better support the costs of its building, Ferebee said. Arlington today serves about 300 students, and adding John Marshall’s roughly 1,100 students would bring the school closer to its 2,000-student capacity.

John Marshall’s building, Ferebee said, was originally designed as a middle school and can’t offer students the amenities the more recently renovated Arlington could. If merged, the school likely would still serve grades seven through 12.

John Marshall has had similarly poor academic performance but narrowly avoided state takeover in 2012. Instead, the school was assigned a “lead partner,” or an outside group support the improvement efforts of the principal and staff.

But community members were surprised when the option to close John Marshall was suggested last month. Some said the transition would be too difficult for students and asked for more time for a new principal to make changes.

The details of the other suggested plans, which don’t involve closing John Marshall, are as follows:

  • Use a new law, created earlier this year by House Bill 1321, to encourage charter schools to partner with IPS to run the school. The goal would be for the new operator to attract at least 700 students to Arlington for 2015-16. This plan would likely remove Arlington from state takeover.
  • Close Arlington in 2015-16, sending students to other schools with an invitation to transfer back when it re-opens in 2016-17, possibly with a different grade configuration than seventh through 12th that it serves today.

Merging is also preferred, Ferebee said, because it helps IPS better estimate the future enrollment of the school, making financial planning easier and more stable.

Charter Schools USA, a charter network that already runs three schools in IPS, said it would consider taking over management of Arlington.

“If it’s better to work this through with IPS, we would support that as well and get right behind that,” said John Hage, CEO of CSUSA. “It’s not for us to say what’s in the best interest of those students. We would want to have the right to earn that.”

One key question from board member Tony Walker, an attorney from Gary, was about what happens to turnaround schools after their contracts with the outside operators end. What processes are in place to make sure schools keep progressing, and how do those ideas spread throughout the rest of the district?

Perhaps, he said, the state should consider changing the law to allow the state to take over entire school districts?

“We’re running into a situation where this group now that has made progress in those schools is going to leave, and there’s nothing in place to capture the progress,” Walker said. “So I think we need some changes in the law immediately for the state board to be able to put an exit strategy or transition in place whereby IPS or Gary Community School Corporation actually gets to benefit from what’s been done over the turnaround process.”

Carole Craig, education chairwoman of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, said no matter what the district and state decide to do, the Arlington and John Marshall communities need to be involved.

“We care so much about our community, and we also, as professionals with our organizations, understand when you have urban districts, the families care so much, but they don’t have the social capital and resources to come forward as much as people would like,” Craig said. “Sometimes people interpret that as that they don’t care, but that is absolutely not true.”

The board has plans to discuss Arlington and its turnaround options at its October 15 meeting.

Making a decision sooner is better than waiting, Ferebee said.

“I think it’s great we’re having this conversation in October because that gives us an enormous amount of time to implement that planning process,” Ferebee said. “We can build relationships with students and plan transitional activities between now and the end of the year so that when school starts in August, students don’t miss a beat.”

Starting young

New York City child care centers are serving more infants, but for poor families seats are scarce

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

Yvette Cora, who works at an East New York day care center, turns down a steady stream of parents asking to enroll their babies.

The center where she works, St. Malachy Child Development Center in East New York, has a contract from New York City to care for babies and toddlers from low-income families. But most won’t get offered a spot until their child is at least 18 months old — it takes six months to a year to get off the baby room waitlist.

“I refer them to home providers, and sometimes after they go visit those homes they come back here and say they prefer it here,” said Cora.

It’s an increasingly common experience for day care providers who work with the city. As interest in early childhood education has grown in the city, more families are seeking spots in day care programs for their babies — but the programs for poor children are actually losing capacity, even as programs that serve more affluent families grow.

With the upcoming transition of the city’s subsidized child care system to the Department of Education (DOE), it remains to be seen how the DOE will prioritize infant care, and whether the agency will find a way to increase the capacity for this age group in centers.

In the past two years, the number of slots for children under 2 years old increased by 10 percent in licensed early education centers citywide — from 9,853 spots in 2015 to 10,806 in 2017, even as total capacity in centers has grown by only 2 percent. That’s according to the Center for New York City Affairs’s analysis of data provided by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which issues licenses to the centers.

At the same time, the child care centers that contract with the city to serve low-income families have been losing their capacity to take in infants and toddlers. The number of openings for children under 2 years old in those centers fell by 8 percent during the same time period, amounting to about 100 lost slots for young children.

The shift means that while Bright Horizons, one for-profit day care provider that charges up to $40,000 per year for full-time care, is growing, there are fewer spots for families whose total annual income is less than that.

“The capacity has grown, but not for poor people,” said Kathleen Hopkins, vice president of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Department of Community Programs that oversees two centers that provide infant care. “There are still not a lot of options for poor families.”

The scarcity of choice for poor families with infants is largely driven by cost. Infants and toddlers are the most expensive age group to serve in child care centers. Most babies in the subsidized child care system are placed in the far less-expensive but also less-regulated subsidized family child care programs, where women get paid meager wages to look after neighborhood kids in their homes, often their living rooms.

But studies nationwide have found family child care programs to be, on average, of lower quality than center-based care, and there’s been a growing interest in increasing the number of slots for infants and toddlers in subsidized New York City child care centers.

Some say that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K expansion and public awareness campaigns such as “Talk to Your Baby” added urgency to this discussion by raising awareness of the importance of receiving high-quality care during the first few years of life.

Staff at the city’s child care resource and referral agencies say they now see a growing number of parents from all backgrounds who believe that early education centers are better equipped than informal arrangements with friends and family to provide quality care and prepare young kids for school. “It’s a trend of the last five years,” says Nancy Kolben, executive director of the child care resource and referral agency Center for Children’s Initiatives.

Early childhood centers that enroll only families who can pay without public subsidies have responded by charging parents more money to offset the high costs inherent in baby care, including expensive sprinkler systems, ground floor classrooms, and that babies be cared for in small groups.

But at subsidized child care centers, rising rents combined with flat city funding have made infant care elusive, despite efforts from ACS to encourage growth.

“Everything we have seen says it’s a money-losing proposition to do [infant care] as a center-based facility because of the infrastructure you need,” said James Matison, executive director of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, which oversees five early education centers that serve low-income families.

“We lose a lot [of space] if we try to incorporate cribs and changing tables, and enrollment numbers go down,” says Maria Contreras-Collier, executive director of Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation.
Some directors say that serving infants is easier at large child care centers that can dedicate a few rooms to babies without cutting back on overall enrollment.

Hanover Place Child Care, a center in Downtown Brooklyn, is a case in point. A large school with a total capacity for over 300 children, it accepts more vouchers to care for infants than any other center in the city. In recent years, as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified, it has begun attracting families who pay privately.

But after a special-education preschool it shared its building and some staff with closed, Hanover Place lost a security guard, art teacher and a nurse. Meanwhile, rents in the neighborhood skyrocketed as new construction crept closer and closer.

Some local parents fear it is only a matter of time before the Brooklyn real estate boom will lead the center to close its doors entirely, or at least close doors to families unable to pay the tuition necessary to keep them open.

This story is adapted from a policy brief from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Charter growth

Smaller cohort of charter schools to open in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Daphnè Robinson, director of charter schools for Shelby County Schools, offers recommendations to the school board.

With charter schools comprising a fourth of Shelby County Schools, district leaders say they’re setting a higher bar for opening new ones in Memphis.

The school board approved only three out of 14 applications on Tuesday night, just months after the district overhauled its charter school office to strengthen oversight of the growing sector.

Opening in 2018 will be Believe Memphis Academy, Freedom Preparatory Academy, and Perea Elementary. The approvals mean the district will oversee 55 charter schools, easily the largest number of any district in Tennessee.

But it’s significantly less than last year, when the board green-lighted seven applicants. Since then, Shelby County Schools has doubled the size of its charter oversight office and stepped up scrutiny of applications.

“We want to strengthen the process every school year because, when it comes down to it, the lives of our kids are at stake and millions of dollars in taxpayer money,” said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management.

This year, the district hired a new leader and new staff for its charter office. It also used five application reviewers from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the group that last year recommended a slew of changes for opening, managing and closing charter schools.

But even with all the changes, the school board didn’t follow all of the staff’s recommendations. Perea’s application had been recommended for denial but, after much discussion, the board voted 7-2 to let the group open an elementary school inside the recently closed Klondike Elementary building. Board members pointed to Perea’s long record of success in operating a preschool at Klondike.

The other two approvals were in line with staff recommendations. Believe Memphis Academy will be a literacy-focused college preparatory school serving students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. Memphis-based Freedom Prep will open its fifth school, which eventually will serve grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.

Board member Teresa Jones expressed concern about deviating from staff recommendations on Perea.

“We have a process. And by all accounts, it’s not a perfect process, but it’s been applied to everyone,” she said.

But Billy Orgel, another board member, said the charter office should have taken into account the long-standing preschool’s performance, even though it’s never operated an elementary school.

“There is a track record with the funders. There is a track record with the school,” he said, adding that “no process is perfect.”

Groups vying for approval this year wanted to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.