IPS board to Ferebee: Explore ways to save Key Learning Community

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Key Learning Community, a K-12 school famous for its unique curriculum, will close at the end of the school year.

Indianapolis Public School Board members, moved by parent complaints, asked Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to consider alternatives to his plan to close Key Learning Community, a K-12 magnet school.

In November, IPS’s plan to close Key drew ire from parents, students and community members who didn’t want to lose the world’s first school with curriculum inspired by the Multiple Intelligences theory.

Among the ideas the board suggested were moving the program to another building and closing just the high school at Key.

“I’d like to see us consider some options,” said board member Diane Arnold. “Paying for a high school for 50 students is not efficient. If we could go K-8 somewhere, possibly that’s a win-win.”

Ferebee said he would be open to considering other options.

“There’s some really strong recommendations of what we could explore to get to a resolution on Key,” Ferebee said. “We’ll go back and explore the feasibility of a school-within-a-school model, or maybe looking at another facility. There are benefits to having a small, unique learning environment, but we also have to consider the operational challenges and the declining interest (in the program). Hopefully we can get to a point where we can find a solution.”

Ferebee proposed closing Key Learning Community in 2016 as part of a redesign of the district’s magnet program that included shifts of magnet programs among other schools, including Gambold Prep, Shortridge, Broad Ripple and Arsenal Tech high schools.

The Key schools is famous, and has often been studied, as one of the best real-world examples of the Multiple Intelligences theory applied to learning, but by 2012 it was struggling to get the results it needed to stay open. An effort to revive the school’s test scores, while preserving its unique history, has had mixed results, with some large test gains at some grades.

The district’s magnet redesign plan also included moving the International Baccalaureate program from Gambold to Shortridge, and moving Shortridge’s law and public policy magnet to Arsenal Tech. That was approved last month. The board will vote next week on whether to move the mass media and communications program from Broad Ripple to Arsenal Tech.

Key Learning Community was eyed for the chopping block, Ferebee said, because of  an “alarming decline” in enrollment there which has made operating the building more costly. The school, which was transformed with the Multiple Intelligences-based curriculum in 1987,  has 448 students in grades K-12 and is considered to be under capacity.

School board president Annie Roof said she wondered if closing Key — located just Southwest of downtown — would make room for the district to sell the school or partner with a charter school. A Chamber of Commerce report on the district’s facilities earlier this year cited Key as a property that might be valuable enough to sell for a profit.

“I’d hate to sell out one of the district’s first alternative programs because it’s profitable,” Roof said.

But Ferebee said that’s not part of his plan.

“It’s difficult to say how the campus would be used because it’s a very versatile campus that could be used as an elementary, middle or even perhaps a high school,” Ferebee said. “This is not an attempt to sell property or lease space to charters.”

If Key closes, Roof said she worried about what would become of its students. It’s likely, she said, many would want to join other magnet programs like the Centers for Inquiry, Sidener Academy for gifted students or a Montessori school. But the district already has more demand than it has seats in those schools.

“Our other programs are full,” Roof said. “Parents who choose Key are looking for that differentiated style of learning. Even if we have something close to that, we don’t have enough spaces for the kids that are at Key currently.”

Parents said moving Key to another building or reorganizing it would be far preferable to closing it altogether.

Amy Hardesty, a parent of Key students, thought hard about where to put her kids in school. She said she chose Key because it offered a curriculum and stressed community involvement unlike any other she had seen.

“It’s our home,” Hardesty said. “You can’t replicate that. Reorganize us. Move us.”

Late notice about plans to close the school continued to irk parents.

Alan Schoff, a Key parent, said the board’s plan seemed “out of touch with what’s really happening on the ground.”

“My biggest issue is not the actual closure of Key,” Schoff said. “The biggest issue I have is the process that got us here.”

Board member Sam Odle said he joined parents and teachers in being frustrated with how the changes were relayed to the community.

“We’ll do a better job of communicating changes in the future,” Odle said. “And there will be more changes, so we’ll have to learn to do that.”

defensor escolar

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.