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.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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