Ferebee says he'd consider one enrollment process for IPS, charters

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

When Cynecqua Goodridge picked Indianapolis Public School 103 for her son Johnnie to start Kindergarten last year, her choice was guided mostly by what she heard from her friends and relatives.

They had some good things to say about School 103, but it wasn’t until after Johnnie was in school that she learned the  Eastside elementary school had earned F letter grades from the state for the past four years and its test scores ranked among the district’s worst.

“I had no idea that the school was failing,” said Goodridge, a parent member of education advocacy group Stand for Children. “It wasn’t until he was in Kindergarten that I found out there were magnet schools within IPS that I could send him to. If I would have known, I definitely would have sought out the best location for my son’s education.”

Goodridge and other Stand for Children parents are now pushing the district to improve the enrollment process and be clearer about test scores and other data so that other families don’t have the same experience.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he’s receptive to the idea.

In fact, Ferebee said he has had “very preliminary” conversations with city officials about creating a common enrollment process to be shared by IPS and Mayor Greg Ballard’s portfolio of Indianapolis charter schools.

Sharing enrollment, he said, would allow district and charter schools to more efficiently plan their staffing by reducing unknowns about how many children might enroll. It would also be easier for parents who are trying to decide whether to send their children to IPS or to a charter school.

“It’s something that we’re open to,” Ferebee said. “Enrollment needs to be very user-friendly and I don’t think it’s very easy for parents to understand in terms of all the different offerings available to them. The better connected we are, the better the community will benefit from what we have to offer.”

A combined system has proved popular for colleges and universities, many of whom now share a single “common application” form. Students fill out just one application that is considered by many schools, which reduces paperwork and time.

For now, Stand for Children is pitching a more limited version of the idea: a “one-stop” shop to help parents to navigate school test scores and other data.

For example, Stand wants all IPS schools rated D or below to notify parents about the school’s grade. The group recently presented the idea to the IPS school board along with a few others they think will improve the district, including a better principal talent pipeline strategy, opening more IPS-charter compact schools and shifting funding from the central administration to the classroom.

Executive Director Justin Ohlemiller said his group is not calling for common enrollment between IPS and charters. At least not yet.

“That’s a couple steps further than what we’re recommending,” Ohlemiller said. “(We’re) calling for data to be housed in one location where (parents) can go and look and see how School A is performing compared to School B, to have all the information they need to make an informed choice.”

The idea of a single enrollment process for IPS and charter schools was proposed in 2013 as part of a policy brief by teacher leadership group Teach Plus as a way to reduce uncertainty for districts planning their staffing needs. It’s also gained traction nationally in cities where there are many school choice options.

School board member Caitlin Hannon, who runs the Indianapolis branch of Teach Plus, agreed parents need more help navigating their options than what is currently available. She has advocated for common enrollment in the past.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure that parents have access to choices, both within the district, and for me personally, outside of the district as well,” Hannon said last month. “We have ton of choice (in Indianapolis), but we don’t have a ton of clarity around navigating that system.”

The Mind Trust executive director David Harris is supportive of centralizing the enrollment between IPS and charters, and anticipated it could be instituted for the 2016-17 school year. The Mind Trust is a non-profit that advocates for innovation and educational change in Indianapolis.

“I’m hopeful that the momentum will continue to grow,” Harris said, who formerly ran the city’s charter school office under former Mayor Bart Peterson. “It’s an important issue. The more choice that is available for parents, the more we’re going to need to make sure we have equity of access.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Stand for Children parent Cynecqua Goodridge’s last name.

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.

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