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.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.