IPS board supportive of plan for 2 high schools, but Cosby has doubts

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
George Washington High School.

Most of the Indianapolis Public School Board tonight cheered a plan that keeps IPS in control over two of its high schools while working with the state and a consultant to improve them, even with a $2.1 million price tag.

But at least one board member had concerns about the district’s proposal, which the school board will vote on Thursday.

Board member Gayle Cosby said she is worried that the contract will result in a more fragmented school district by creating separate governing boards for schools under the state’s new “transformation zone.”

There should be more community engagement before such an undertaking, she said.

“I always prefer to get the community involved on the front end rather than the back end,” Cosby said. “There were some clear parallels between the transformation zone work and what you could define as decentralization. I don’t have 100 percent clarity on that issue, but there are some murky points in the scope of work.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee pitched the plan for IPS to work with Boston-based Mass Insight to create transformation zones for George Washington and Northwest high schools, a school improvement approach that groups troubled schools and schools that feed into them with a goal of identifying struggling students early and giving more power to principals.

Unlike the state takeover, a process that has severed other schools from district control, IPS would remain in control of, and responsible for, the schools — something that Ferebee has pushed state leaders to permit more widely since taking charge of the district in 2013.

“Two years ago, the only course was for the state to take over more and more of the IPS schools,” board member Sam Odle said. “Now, with what Dr. Ferebee has negotiated with the state … IPS isn’t losing control of any more schools. We’re getting additional state resources to help us improve those schools.”

The company’s plan for the two schools proposes that all staff members in transformation zone schools to reapply for their positions and to work under a “modified collective bargaining agreement.”

Ferebee said that is not part of the plan, or at least not yet. But he noted that increasing autonomy for schools throughout the district is a newly defined priority for the school board.

“I wouldn’t say it changes anything materially,” Ferebee said.

If the contract is approved, Mass Insight’s work will start at George Washington High School and Northwest High School starting next fall. Cosby said she was concerned the district might not have enough oversight of its work.

The debate comes as state policymakers rethink how the state should treated the state’s lowest scoring schools.

The transformation zone model originated in Evansville. The Indiana Department of Education has also tried pairing IPS schools that repeated have been rated an F have with outside consultants as “lead partners,” but that has met with little success.

IPS has gone through several failed relationships with lead partners, causing Ferebee to ask the state board last year to drop the concept entirely. The state board responded by letting IPS act as its own lead partner for one school and by assigning Denver-based Marzano Research Laboratories to work with two other high schools.

State takeover also has been rife with problems. The state board voted last week to let IPS regain management of Arlington High School after months of debate over what would happen to the Indianapolis high school since its state-assigned operator, the charter network Tindley Accelerated Schools, announced last year it couldn’t afford to run the school anymore.

Ferebee said he prefers the transformation zone model to state takeover or lead partners.

“This model that we’re proposing where the district takes the lead in working with schools that have been underperforming is a more favorable model,” Ferebee said.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”