Building Better Schools

State board rules IPS can manage Arlington, share Donnan

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

Indianapolis Public Schools today gained back a measure of control over two of its former schools that have been run independently after state takeover in 2012.

It’s going too far to say that IPS gets the schools back. The Indiana State Board of Education made clear in its meeting today that it considers Arlington High School and Emma Donnan Middle School still technically separate from the district and under state takeover even while approving the district’s proposals to help run them.

But the district can fairly claim to earned back a measure of control and, after a painful period in which IPS leaders were essentially deemed untrustworthy to run its most troubled schools, the implicit confidence of state board members.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district has earned renewed faith from the state board by getting its financial house in order and raising test scores since he took over in 2013.

“I think it clearly is a sign of confidence,” he said. “There’s also public-facing evidence of progress. You see that in our performance. A third of our school increased their letter grades and eight schools had a two-letter grade increase.”

In the case of Arlington, the school’s new management structure will be virtually equivalent to any other district school. Ferebee and the IPS staff will manage all decisions and regain total control over the building’s operations.

The only differences from other IPS schools are that IPS the district hired a consultant — at the state board’s insistence — to provide advice and support and the state board reserves the right to quickly step in to change the arrangement if it is unhappy with the school’s direction at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Even so, the arrangement is unique among the state’s five state takeover schools. IPS will be the only manager of a school in state takeover that does not have an explicit contract with the state board.

Even so, state board members insisted they retain ultimate authority over Arlington.

“I think sometimes there has been a misperception that we were in and now we’re out,” state board member Dan Elsener said. “We are still, as a board, responsible for the performance of the school but we are changing the operator to the district. We are not washing our hands of this.”

If the state board had fully released Arlington from state takeover, it would have forfeited the authority to change the school’s manager to an outside group unless Arlington again earned six straight years of F grades for low test scores.

Six F grades was the trigger in 2011 that empowered the state board to take over Arlington, Donnan Middle School and Howe and Manual High Schools from IPS under state law for the first time. Roosevelt High School in Gary is also being managed independently under state takeover. Donnan, Howe and Manual continue to be managed independent of IPS by the Florida-based company Charter Schools USA.

But for Donnan, IPS also won a greater role today.

CSUSA has been frustrated with the middle school, which serves grades 7 and 8, asking in the past to add lower grades with the goal of getting kids sooner before they have fallen as far behind as some Donnan students. But the state board ruled Indiana law does not permit changes in the grade configuration for schools in state takeover.

So CSUSA and IPS forged a plan to serve both their goals: the school will be able to add the elementary grades as the company had asked and the school district gets to share oversight.

To make that happen, the two forged a separate contract to jointly manage Donnan and asked the state board to approve two changes to the state takeover plan.

The state board first extended its two-year contract with CSUSA to allow it to manage Donnan’s middle school operation through 2020.

Separately, IPS and CSUSA will make use of a 2013 law, resulted that year from House Bill 1321, which gave the district special flexibility to partner with outside companies to manage its schools. Through that deal, IPS and Donnan can create a separate elementary school within the building. The elementary school will be an IPS school and the district will hire CSUSA to run it also.

The goal, Ferebee said, is for the partnership with CSUSA to continue long term. Eventually he envisions the middle school exiting state takeover and the entire K to 8 school managed by CSUSA but fully under IPS control without the state board playing any role.

“It is our hope that ultimately it would transition to some type of long term relationship between IPS and Charter Schools USA,” Ferebee said.

IPS’s road to regaining control at Arlington and Donnan rolled through a series of twists and turns that began with the sudden decision last summer by Tindley Schools, an Indianapolis-based charter school network, to back out of its contract with the state to manage Arlington.

Tindley officials had asked for a boost in state aid to help run the school and shocked state board members by announcing it would pull out of Arlington at the end of this school year when the board balked at giving Arlington more money.

That sparked talks with Ferebee, who proposed repatriating Arlington to IPS. In December, Ferebee hailed what he thought was the state board’s blessing for Arlington to exit state takeover, only to have the board insist in February it did not plan to release the school entirely.

Separately, IPS’s new flexibility under House Bill 1321 rules led to talks with CSUSA about whether such a partnership could be used to achieve its goal of expanding Donnan to elementary school grades.

Negotiations between the two were laborious, in part because the state board asked for changes in the arrangement.
Ferebee said the IPS school board will be asked to approve the Donnan contract later this month.


Starting young

New York City child care centers are serving more infants, but for poor families seats are scarce

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

Yvette Cora, who works at an East New York day care center, turns down a steady stream of parents asking to enroll their babies.

The center where she works, St. Malachy Child Development Center in East New York, has a contract from New York City to care for babies and toddlers from low-income families. But most won’t get offered a spot until their child is at least 18 months old — it takes six months to a year to get off the baby room waitlist.

“I refer them to home providers, and sometimes after they go visit those homes they come back here and say they prefer it here,” said Cora.

It’s an increasingly common experience for day care providers who work with the city. As interest in early childhood education has grown in the city, more families are seeking spots in day care programs for their babies — but the programs for poor children are actually losing capacity, even as programs that serve more affluent families grow.

With the upcoming transition of the city’s subsidized child care system to the Department of Education (DOE), it remains to be seen how the DOE will prioritize infant care, and whether the agency will find a way to increase the capacity for this age group in centers.

In the past two years, the number of slots for children under 2 years old increased by 10 percent in licensed early education centers citywide — from 9,853 spots in 2015 to 10,806 in 2017, even as total capacity in centers has grown by only 2 percent. That’s according to the Center for New York City Affairs’s analysis of data provided by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which issues licenses to the centers.

At the same time, the child care centers that contract with the city to serve low-income families have been losing their capacity to take in infants and toddlers. The number of openings for children under 2 years old in those centers fell by 8 percent during the same time period, amounting to about 100 lost slots for young children.

The shift means that while Bright Horizons, one for-profit day care provider that charges up to $40,000 per year for full-time care, is growing, there are fewer spots for families whose total annual income is less than that.

“The capacity has grown, but not for poor people,” said Kathleen Hopkins, vice president of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Department of Community Programs that oversees two centers that provide infant care. “There are still not a lot of options for poor families.”

The scarcity of choice for poor families with infants is largely driven by cost. Infants and toddlers are the most expensive age group to serve in child care centers. Most babies in the subsidized child care system are placed in the far less-expensive but also less-regulated subsidized family child care programs, where women get paid meager wages to look after neighborhood kids in their homes, often their living rooms.

But studies nationwide have found family child care programs to be, on average, of lower quality than center-based care, and there’s been a growing interest in increasing the number of slots for infants and toddlers in subsidized New York City child care centers.

Some say that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K expansion and public awareness campaigns such as “Talk to Your Baby” added urgency to this discussion by raising awareness of the importance of receiving high-quality care during the first few years of life.

Staff at the city’s child care resource and referral agencies say they now see a growing number of parents from all backgrounds who believe that early education centers are better equipped than informal arrangements with friends and family to provide quality care and prepare young kids for school. “It’s a trend of the last five years,” says Nancy Kolben, executive director of the child care resource and referral agency Center for Children’s Initiatives.

Early childhood centers that enroll only families who can pay without public subsidies have responded by charging parents more money to offset the high costs inherent in baby care, including expensive sprinkler systems, ground floor classrooms, and that babies be cared for in small groups.

But at subsidized child care centers, rising rents combined with flat city funding have made infant care elusive, despite efforts from ACS to encourage growth.

“Everything we have seen says it’s a money-losing proposition to do [infant care] as a center-based facility because of the infrastructure you need,” said James Matison, executive director of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, which oversees five early education centers that serve low-income families.

“We lose a lot [of space] if we try to incorporate cribs and changing tables, and enrollment numbers go down,” says Maria Contreras-Collier, executive director of Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation.
Some directors say that serving infants is easier at large child care centers that can dedicate a few rooms to babies without cutting back on overall enrollment.

Hanover Place Child Care, a center in Downtown Brooklyn, is a case in point. A large school with a total capacity for over 300 children, it accepts more vouchers to care for infants than any other center in the city. In recent years, as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified, it has begun attracting families who pay privately.

But after a special-education preschool it shared its building and some staff with closed, Hanover Place lost a security guard, art teacher and a nurse. Meanwhile, rents in the neighborhood skyrocketed as new construction crept closer and closer.

Some local parents fear it is only a matter of time before the Brooklyn real estate boom will lead the center to close its doors entirely, or at least close doors to families unable to pay the tuition necessary to keep them open.

This story is adapted from a policy brief from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Charter growth

Smaller cohort of charter schools to open in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Daphnè Robinson, director of charter schools for Shelby County Schools, offers recommendations to the school board.

With charter schools comprising a fourth of Shelby County Schools, district leaders say they’re setting a higher bar for opening new ones in Memphis.

The school board approved only three out of 14 applications on Tuesday night, just months after the district overhauled its charter school office to strengthen oversight of the growing sector.

Opening in 2018 will be Believe Memphis Academy, Freedom Preparatory Academy, and Perea Elementary. The approvals mean the district will oversee 55 charter schools, easily the largest number of any district in Tennessee.

But it’s significantly less than last year, when the board green-lighted seven applicants. Since then, Shelby County Schools has doubled the size of its charter oversight office and stepped up scrutiny of applications.

“We want to strengthen the process every school year because, when it comes down to it, the lives of our kids are at stake and millions of dollars in taxpayer money,” said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management.

This year, the district hired a new leader and new staff for its charter office. It also used five application reviewers from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the group that last year recommended a slew of changes for opening, managing and closing charter schools.

But even with all the changes, the school board didn’t follow all of the staff’s recommendations. Perea’s application had been recommended for denial but, after much discussion, the board voted 7-2 to let the group open an elementary school inside the recently closed Klondike Elementary building. Board members pointed to Perea’s long record of success in operating a preschool at Klondike.

The other two approvals were in line with staff recommendations. Believe Memphis Academy will be a literacy-focused college preparatory school serving students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. Memphis-based Freedom Prep will open its fifth school, which eventually will serve grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.

Board member Teresa Jones expressed concern about deviating from staff recommendations on Perea.

“We have a process. And by all accounts, it’s not a perfect process, but it’s been applied to everyone,” she said.

But Billy Orgel, another board member, said the charter office should have taken into account the long-standing preschool’s performance, even though it’s never operated an elementary school.

“There is a track record with the funders. There is a track record with the school,” he said, adding that “no process is perfect.”

Groups vying for approval this year wanted to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.