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.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”