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.”

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.