IPS regains control of Arlington High School

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

For the first time since Indiana began taking over failing schools, a school district got one of the schools back.

The Indiana State Board of Education unanimously voted today to put Indianapolis Public Schools back in charge of  Arlington High School, which was one of the the first five schools to face state takeover in 2012.

“I’m pleased,” IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “It’s a historic moment. It’s definitely a milestone in the transformation process for IPS.”

Three other former IPS schools — Howe and Manual high schools and Donnan Middle School — will continue to be run by a Florida company through 2018.

The decisions were helped along by sweeping changes the board approved to the state takeover process. The recommendations from the board’s turnaround committee also extended by two years Charter Schools USA’s contract to continue managing Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual and Howe high schools for two years. They also could make it easier for CSUSA to add more grades and more students at Donnan and Manual.

IPS will resume responsibility for Arlington and is expected to develop a plan to create a “transformation zone,” or a special division to oversee and improve schools’ performance. That plan will include other IPS schools that had been subject to a milder form of state intervention when they were assigned “lead partner” organizations to help them improve: George Washington, John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools. The district is expected to return to the state board in February with a detailed plan for how the transformation zone will work.

“I think this is one of the best options,” state board member David Freitas said. “That you grow within — that you transform your own schools within your own communities.”

Arlington was managed by Tindley Accelerated Schools until the non-profit charter school network complained it could no longer afford to run the school and asked to withdraw from its contract early for the end of this year.

Ferebee, who had presented a plan to merge the school with John Marshall High School in Arlington’s building, said today the merger idea will be reconsidered and a completely new plan drawn up.

“I can’t say today that (merging) is the plan,” he said. “We gave options anticipating we wouldn’t have the authority that we have now. I think we have to go back to the drawing board.”

The idea for a transformation zone was borrowed by the state from Evansville, which built a widely-praised separate oversight structure for one school that was eligible for state takeover and four feeder schools. IPS has done something similar under Ferebee, placing 11 “priority” schools with low test scores under a special monitoring structure. Some of them saw strong test score gains.

“It gives us an opportunity to replicate work we have already been doing,” he said. “Those priority schools that we identified, just focusing on those schools the last six months of last school year we saw tremendous strides in just one year. You can imagine over time the potential to dramatically improve student outcomes. I think we’re on the right track.”

CSUSA CEO John Hage, who had asked for a five-five year extension of its contract to manage Manual, Donnan and Howe, said he was pleased to be awarded two more years. Manual is the only state takeover school that saw its grade improve to a D. The others still are rated an F.

“If you get results, the rest takes care of itself,” Hage said. “Today is a proving point for that. It might not have been a five-year extension, but we still have a year and a half left on our current contract. So we have three and a half years now on the horizon so people aren’t worried if they will have a job.”

The changes the state board is aiming to make to the takeover process should help improve cooperation, he said.

“We want to evolve from this forced, shotgun marriage to one that has actual alignment so that resources will drive the educational model,” Hage said.

CSUSA wants to expand Donnan from a middle school to include kindergarten through eighth grades or put a separate K-6 charter school in empty classrooms at Donnan, but state law doesn’t allow takeover schools to change grade configuration or to place other schools within a takeover building. The state board will ask the legislature to consider changing the law to allow such options in the 2015 session.

“Our whole goal is a K-12 system,” Hage said. “We have been very open about that since day one. Our long term plans include charter schools in other areas.”

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.