Future of Schools

IPS chooses struggling School 103 as Phalen 'innovation' school

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
F-rated School 103 became a Phalen Leadership Academy-managed school this year, launching a new "innovation school network" in IPS.

A long-struggling Indianapolis Public Schools elementary on the city’s Far Eastside will next year be transformed into a Phalen Leadership Academy under a deal between the district and the charter school group.

IPS announced Tuesday that School 103, also called Francis Scott Key, was selected for the district’s first compact with an outside group to independently manage a school inside its boundaries. The school has been graded an F by the state for four straight years and just 15 percent of students passed the ISTEP last year. The district’s average pass rate is more than three times that.

IPS in January approved a request from Phalen Leadership Academy‘s Earl Martin Phalen and Marlon Llewellyn — winners of The Mind Trust’s innovation school fellowship — to turn around the chronically failing school using a model that’s worked in their Indianapolis charter school. But the school wasn’t chosen until now.

“We’re humbled by the size of the responsibility,” Phalen said. “It’s in one of our tougher communities. We’re really excited … to give children an education and a pathway to improve their lives and their future.”

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why he chose the school for the partnership.

The school has received extra supports over the past year since Ferebee labeled it as one of the district’s priority buildings because of students’ declining grades on state tests. And the school board voted last week against renewing the contract for school’s former principal, Shelia Burlock, along with a host of other administrators.

Parent Trisha Gunn, who has four children that attend School 103, described the school as “rowdy” and said she believes it’s in need of a complete overhaul. She said she hasn’t been impressed with the school leadership or teachers.

“They can call us when our kids are hitting another student, but they can’t call us and let us know what their grades are,” Gunn said. “I was devastated when I found out they had a 15 percent passing rate.”

Gunn, who said she was considering pulling her kids out of IPS before she heard about the Phalen partnership, said she hopes new leadership improves the learning environment. Gunn last year graduated from advocacy group Stand for Children’s parent engagement course.

“Those teachers need guidance,” Gunn said. “I think they need someone to come in and say, ‘You’re not doing this on your own and we’re here to help.’ All those teachers fall back on that one principal who’s in charge of that school.”

Phalen said from state test scores alone it is clear that the school, which has 324 students from preschool to sixth grade, is in need of a massive intervention. The school’s passing rate on the ISTEP has fallen 15 percent in two years.

“I know that well more than 15 percent of the children there have the capacity to master both sides of the ISTEP exam,” Phalen said. “We feel confident that we’ll be able to create a culture … that is nurturing, loving, warm and fun but also has high standards and high expectations.”

The group also hopes to forge partnerships with other community social services groups.

“It will be a great thing for that neighborhood,” said The Mind Trust President David Harris. “We all know what a high-quality school can do for a community, for attracting families and businesses. This will have reverberations for this community beyond just the students.”

Llewellyn will take over the school next year as its principal. He formerly worked in IPS, followed by stints at Fountain Square Academy charter school and working for Tindley Schools, a charter school group, as a dean at Arlington High School, a former IPS school it manages in state takeover.

Teachers at the school were told on Tuesday that the school would be reconstituted. Phalen said teachers can either request a transfer to teach at other IPS schools or apply to Phalen Leadership Academy. Teachers at the school next year will not be part of the union since Phalen is a charter school network.

The Phalen school model relies on a longer school day and “blended learning,” a process by which students do some lessons by computer on their own and some teacher-led lessons.” Phalen Leadership Academy’s Indianapolis charter school, which opened in 2013, has not yet earned an A to F grade under the state’s accountability system.

That model costs money. Last year some board members scoffed at the group’s proposal to spend about $14,000 per child. Board member Sam Odle questioned whether the model would require extra support from philanthropy on top of what IPS receives from state and federal sources. IPS received $7,058 per student from the state this year.

Phalen said he is in the process of negotiating a contract with IPS to finalize how to pay for the school model.

“We have not finalized the funding piece, but we’re in conversations and are optimistic and positive that we’ll find a way to put together the right agreement,” Phalen said.

The partnership between IPS and Phalen is the result of a state law signed last year called Public Law 1321 which allows compacts between the district and charter schools or other groups to operate schools inside the district. The schools are run independently but are accountable to IPS.

Stand for Children, an advocacy group that pushes for change at IPS and the state level, praised the partnership. Executive director Justin Ohlemiller said he hopes it’s a signal of more change to come at IPS.

“This is a huge first step that IPS deserves a lot of credit for,” Ohlemiller said. “Our membership is interested in seeing that one school becomes several in the next couple of years.”

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”