IPS to manage Arlington, but it will remain in state takeover

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Board of Education member Dan Elsener asks questions of IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee at a board meeting last year.

The Indiana State Board of Education today unanimously voted to let Indianapolis Public Schools manage Arlington High School, but the school will remain in state takeover.

The decision is the latest in a confusing string of actions by the state board over who controls the school, which was severed from district control in 2012 because of low test scores. A deal with charter operator Tindley Accelerated Schools to manage Arlington in state takeover fell apart last year because of cost concerns.

In the last few months, IPS thought Arlington had exited state takeover and been returned to the district, learned that the state board expected to keep the takeover in force and, finally, forged today’s agreement for the district to manage the school again but with the state board still ultimately in charge.

In December, IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee hailed a state board vote he said gave IPS back complete control over the school. But in February, state board members said they weren’t ready to relinquish control. The confusion raised concerns among state policymakers and schools that there is no clear path yet on how a school can exit state takeover.

Today, board members referred to IPS as the school’s “manager.”

“You can start telling the community that IPS is going to run this thing,” board member Dan Elsener said.

The deal is contingent on IPS by April 1 entering into a contract with an outside consultant to help improve the school and agreeing to meet data goals that haven’t yet been set.

Elsener said the ultimate goal of state takeover is to give control of the school back to the district. But he said he wants IPS to show marked improvement at the school before that happens.

“We want it right back where it belongs,” Elsener said.

The IPS school board is set to vote next week on a contract with Boston-based Mass Insight, the likely consultant for the school. Arlington will eventually be part of a transformation zone, a turnaround strategy that involves grouping schools and identifying struggling students early.

The strategy has worked in Evansville and state board members said they believe it’s how school turnaround should be handled in the future.

“I’m willing to vote in favor of the concept because I think that’s where we need to be going with all these turnaround schools,” said board member Tony Walker, who said he hoped a similar plan would eventually be put in place at Roosevelt High School in Gary.

Ferebee said afterward he came away from the meeting with more clarity, but he said told board members that the process has been “frustrating.” IPS is soon to select a principal for the school, and Ferebee said the district has found $6.5 million in repairs and technology updates it needs to make before it reopens next year.

“We know what we’re expected to bring forth and we’re going to do that,” Ferebee said. “Our role is to identify a great leader, build a team to support the students there and engage the community to improve student outcomes.”

Merging John Marshall High School into Arlington — a controversial idea Ferebee suggested to the state board in October — is no longer being considered, he said. IPS board members and Ferebee initially said they favored merging John Marshall at Arlington, but a meeting at the high school brought several speakers who opposed that plan.

“Part of the input and feedback process was to listen and take that information to inform our decision and we heard a lot of concern around that and it’s something we want to be sensitive to,” Ferebee said.

Plus, he said, starting with a relatively small student population might produce better results. Arlington’s projected enrollment for next fall is 607 students, but most of those will be new seventh graders from nearby elementary schools.

Enrollment at Arlington dropped sharply when Tindley Schools took over from IPS. Its enrollment of nearly 1,200 before the takeover in 2012 dropped to 317 students last year.

“This is almost like a restart,” Ferebee said. “We want to make sure we create a very strong foundation. It may not be the right time to implement a merger when we’ve got that type of work that needs to take place.”

No deal yet on Emma Donnan

Indianapolis Public Schools and Charter Schools USA still haven’t reached a deal to partner on Emma Donnan Middle School, which was handed over to CSUSA in 2012 in state takeover.

The parties have said they want to work together to create an elementary school that feeds into Emma Donnan, which serves grades 7 and 8, under a new state law signed last year that allows compacts between the district and charter school groups. But the company and the district are still hashing through details about how it would work with their lawyers.

State board members urged IPS and CSUSA to have a deal by the April 1 meeting.

“I can tell you we continue to poke, prod and encourage them to move forward,” said Bob Guffin, the state board’s executive director, “and they have made great strides in what they’re doing.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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