Future of Schools

Mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett on education in his own words

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Democrat Joe Hogsett announced a run for mayor last month at the Landmark for Peace monument in King Park.

Chalkbeat recently interviewed Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett about his views on education in the city. Read more about the interview here and reaction here.

Hogsett touched on a wide range of issues in his first major interview about education. Here is more of what he had to say on some key issues:

On the role of the mayor in education

Joe Hogsett
Joe Hogsett

“The authority of the mayor, but for mayoral sponsored charter schools, over the day-to-day delivery of public education is indirect. I respect that.”

“I would not be a complainer, not a second guesser, not an armchair quarterback, but be available to visit classrooms and attend choir concerts, band contests, sporting events … to convene and listen to principals and administrators about how things are going. I’d want to promote IPS and other public school corporations around the community, so the good things they are doing are acknowledged. And that their failures, to the extent that those unfortunately occur, are recognized and dealt with.”

On the importance of IPS

“IPS has its fair share of problems. Absolutely. Has it been of some duration? I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. The same types of challenges IPS has faced, perhaps for a longer period of time, are manifesting themselves in other school corporations as well.”

“For any leader to focus exclusively on IPS and not spend as much time with other school corporations, paying as much attention to them as one does IPS, you are giving short shrift to what may be a challenge for the townships as well.”

On the current state of IPS

“We have three newly elected school board members to go along with those who remain. We have a reasonably new, and very well respected, leader in Dr. (Lewis) Ferebee, who I have met with now on several occasions.”

On money in IPS race

“The amount of money involved in elections bothers me across the board. This is not a new problem. Maybe we should be troubled that it’s now moved to the level of school board races. But I think that the involvement of large sums of money, large contributors at any level, is always a chronic challenge.”

“You have to balance that against the constitutional principles of free speech and the series of cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that limits Congress and other legislative bodies from bringing what I would consider to be a little more sanity to the process.”

“It is troubling but I wish I had the answer. I don’t. As long as we have the First Amendment people have the right to contribute in disclosable ways. Let the people know the facts, as Lincoln used to say, and the people will be saved.”

On IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee

“I have already offered to Dr. Ferebee to help him personally. All he needs to do is ask. If I’m elected mayor, he and I will engage in a very close working relationship and maybe even a partnership in furtherance of the betterment of IPS.”

“My sense is Dr. Ferebee is available and open-minded. He is progressive. I have found him to be very thoughtful. He is courageous. He hasn’t shied away from controversy, probably much to his chagrin from time to time. These are tough decisions, but you have to have people who are willing to make tough decisions.”

“I do intend to be the kind of mayor who is fully engaged with the superintendent, with principals, with teachers and hopefully with parents and students and other stakeholders so that at least I have a good sense of, and appreciation for, the unique challenges neighborhoods or communities face.”

On charter school accountability

“If a mayoral sponsored charter school is failing, it needs to be held accountable. Nobody wants anyone to fail. They need to improve. They need to get better. If they’re given opportunity to be forewarned, and an opportunity to change, and no progress being made in terms of outcomes, then they need to be closed.”

On city support for preschool tuition for poor families

“I am supportive of the mayor’s preschool proposal. I did take issues with his property tax increase. I am glad the compromise reached funds that program adequately without a tax increase on citizens of Marion County. But I don’t think it can be sustained. That’s why I encouraged our governor and legislature to seriously consider expansion of their pilot program and ultimately put the state in a position so pre-K can be funded from state resources as soon as is reasonably possible.”

departures

As fate of ‘Newark Enrolls’ is debated, top enrollment officials resign

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

The top officials overseeing Newark’s controversial school-enrollment system have resigned just weeks after the school board blocked the new superintendent from ousting them.

Their departure creates new uncertainty for Newark Enrolls, one of the few enrollment systems in the country that allows families to apply to district and charter schools through a single online portal. Proponents say the centralized system simplifies the application process for families and gives them more options, while critics say it undermines traditional neighborhood schools while boosting charter-school enrollment.

Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, chief of the Newark Public Schools division that includes enrollment, and Kate Fletcher, executive director of the enrollment office, both departed on Friday. The district did not provide information about why they left or who — if anyone — will replace them, and neither of the two could be reached for comment.

Their departure comes after Superintendent Roger León, who took over on July 1, included them among 31 officials and administrators who were given the option to resign or face being fired. Days later, the school board approved all but nine of the dismissals; Ramos-Solomon and Fletcher were among those spared.

Both officials were hired in 2013 shortly before former Superintendent Cami Anderson unveiled the enrollment system, then called One Newark, as part of a sweeping overhaul that also included closing some schools. Parents were outraged by the closures and the system’s glitchy rollout, which left some students without school placements and separated other students from their siblings.

In recent years, Ramos-Solomon has overseen improvements to the system, including tweaking the computer algorithm that matches students with schools to give a greater boost to families who live near their chosen schools. While district data shows that most students are matched with one of their top choices, critics remain wary of the system and some — including some board members — call for it to be dismantled.

León, a veteran Newark educator who was expected by some observers to oppose Newark Enrolls, said in a private meeting with charter-school leaders that he intends to keep the process in place. But he will have to win over the board, whose members have asked the district skeptical questions about the system in recent months, such as why some students are reportedly matched with charter schools they didn’t apply to. (The district says that does not happen.)

Board member Tave Padilla said he was not aware that Ramos-Solomon or Fletcher had resigned, and did not know whether replacements had been lined up. He added that the board had not discussed the fate of Newark Enrolls since a meeting in June where Ramos-Solomon provided information about the system, nor has the full board discussed the matter with León.

“The district now does have the option to keep what we have in place, modify it, or do away with it,” he said. “Whether we choose to do that or not, I don’t know.”

Future of Schools

Indiana is struggling to give kids speech therapy. Here’s why it’s getting harder.

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Indiana let emergency permits that make it easier for schools to hire high-demand speech-language pathologists lapse — and there won’t be time to address the oversight before the first day of classes.

“This is going to take legislative action to resolve,” said Risa Regnier, director of licensing for the Indiana Department of Education. “So there’s really no way to fix this for the beginning of school this year.”

The communication disorders emergency permits, which expired at the end of June, were created by a 2007 law to offer relief to schools struggling to find enough speech-language pathologists, educators say. While the number of students who will be affected wasn’t immediately available, nearly one-fifth of all special education students across the state need speech and language services.

The permits allowed schools to hire graduates of four-year speech-language programs who have been accepted to master’s programs, which are typically required for a full license as a speech-language pathologist.

But the employees who use these permits are no longer able to continue in their jobs, and the state cannot issue new permits unless lawmakers step in.

“You have to understand that we have a huge shortage of (speech-language pathologists),” said Ann Higgins, director of a special education cooperative that serves four districts in north central Indiana. “This is the beginning of my sixth year being director, and we have yet to be fully staffed … as a result, we’re constantly piecing together a puzzle, if you will, to provide speech services.”

These professionals can work in educational or medical settings, and their roles can vary widely depending on the students they serve. They might work on letter sounds with some students with milder needs, but they could also help students with more severe disabilities improve swallowing.

According to state data, 84 educators who currently have full communications disorders licenses once held emergency permits, and 190 have received them since 2007.

The emergency permits are a “last resort,” said Tammy Hurm, who handles legislative affairs for the Indiana Council of Administrators of Special Education. But they have made it possible for speech-language program graduates to work as pathologists while completing their licenses. With the permits, schools have had more flexibility around supervision, but permit-holders still couldn’t practice outside of what they’ve been educated to do.

Although the number of people affected might seem small, many districts are seeing a shortage, Hurm said, especially rural districts like Higgins’ that already have a hard time attracting people to jobs in their communities.

Because schools can rarely pay as much as a hospital or nursing home, schools are not as attractive for the already-small number of fully qualified speech-language pathology graduates. Part of that also stems from the fact that the needed master’s programs have caps on enrollment.

“A lot of the kids that graduate go directly into medical (jobs) because they pay more, they can work more days,” Higgins said. “Unless they have school experience or know that school is what they love … a lot go medical.”

This problem is not unique to Indiana. Across the country, demand for speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 18 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s partially because of growth in other groups of people that need them, such as senior citizens, and because of growing school enrollment and earlier, more frequent identification of speech and language issues.

Without these permits, four-year graduates in speech and language can generally only be speech-language pathology assistants, which means they can offer certain services with supervision, Hurm said. Salaries can be hourly or close to what a starting teacher might make.

To get over the pay hurdle, Higgins has been creative. Her co-op runs entirely on federal funds, a strategy that began three years ago so she could pay speech-language pathologists higher salaries than what collective bargaining rules dictated. More than one-third of her budget is just spent on speech services.

But critics of the emergency permits say they’re a short-term solution and place under-qualified people in roles they aren’t prepared to handle.

Undergraduate students who study speech, language, and hearing sciences typically have only a theoretical knowledge of what communications disorders are like, not the clinical, hands-on experience they’d get at the graduate level to diagnose and treat children.

When the students get an emergency permit that grants them some responsibilities that usually only come with full licensure, it can be a disincentive to finish the program, critics point out.

“The problem with that is that those folks then are not put in a position where they have to continue their education,” said Janet Deppe, director of state advocacy for the The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “We don’t necessarily believe that just putting a body in a place is going to make a difference in that child’s educational success and success beyond education.”

Adam Baker, spokesman for the education department, said education officials are discussing what to do about the permits now so that they can find a way forward and propose a solution during next year’s legislative session.

Higgins didn’t find out the permits were expiring until the spring — after the previous legislative session had already ended. With the emergency permits off the table for this year, Higgins has lost one employee. That leaves her with three full-time speech-language pathologists for the coming year in a co-op that serves about 1,170 students — 455 of which need speech services. To be fully staffed, she needs seven pathologists.

Each speech-language pathologist is responsible for about 60 students at a time, though it can grow to be closer to 70, she said.

To get by, Higgins is having retirees come in to supervise assistants, evaluate students, work on education plans, and write reports. She’s also using teletherapy — providing speech-language services over the internet — for high-schoolers, who generally need less intensive therapies.

The permit expiration is frustrating, she said, because it’s one more factor working against schools that have been trying to fully staff speech and language programs for years — and especially because for the majority of students, speech therapy can fix their issues. It’s not always the case, Higgins said, but many times, students’ speech or language problems are correctable with therapy, meaning they won’t need services in the future.

It puts the shortage, and the effects of losing the emergency permits, into perspective, she said.

“While there may not be many people impacted by this particular change … it just magnifies this whole shortage issue that we have with speech-language pathologists,” Higgins said. “We just lost a person that serves 60 kids.”