IPS ends Bridges to Success student support program

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Bridges to Success coordinator Liz Odle and IPS students thank school volunteers and principals at a June celebration honoring the program.

Liz Odle huddled with a group of Indianapolis Public Schools students on Thursday afternoon to sing “thank you for being you” and say goodbye to hundreds of Indianapolis volunteers, businesses and community groups that make up United Way’s Bridges to Success program.

Technically, the 21-year-old program, which this year helped more than 9,000 students in 20 IPS schools with basic needs like tutoring, mentoring, eye exams and other services, is going away next year.

But IPS and United Way say the intention is to expand access to the same services to students in every IPS school.

Odle, the program’s longtime director, is retiring as the program changes hands.

“Every child in every school deserves a chance to succeed,” Odle said. “Our mission was to remove the barriers so that students could be successful. The greatest accomplishment is getting the community to embrace the fact that the education of our kids and the success of our kids does not fall only on that classroom.”

The changes are coming as a result of a recent evaluation of the program, said Jay Geshay, United Way’s senior vice president.

Previously, the program was set up differently in various schools, which he said was difficult to sustain. Twenty schools had “community school coordinators,” employed by IPS, he said, while at other schools the people in those roles worked for community centers.

Now, United Way will help fund two positions to coordinate community engagement work across the district and training for IPS staff that oversees parent involvement. Those IPS workers will now oversee elements of the program at each school.

The new coordinators will work alongside Deb Black, who was hired last year from advocacy group Stand for Children to get more parents involved across the district.

“We recognized that the current models that were in place could not be expanded to all schools,” Geshay said. “In working with IPS leadership, we came up with this new model that allows us to go to all schools.”

United Way’s total investment in IPS is not expected to change, Geshay said. United Way spent $518,000 on Bridges to Success last year, according to the organization.

“The strength of the program has been engaging the community inside of IPS, inside the school and inside the classroom to bring unique assistance to children, whether that is eyeglasses or health testing, tutoring and mentoring, or after school programs,” Geshay said. “All those services and functions will be part of what is going forward.”

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district will continue to work with United Way, and he even hopes to “go deeper” with programs including ReadUP, where volunteers are matched with third- and fourth-graders in IPS schools to help them with reading skills.

About 80 percent of students who had between two and three ReadUP sessions per week passed ISTEP, according to United Way. District wide, just 59 percent of fourth-graders passed ISTEP last year.

“We want to make sure we’re getting the best outcomes from our investments on both sides,” Ferebee said. “Elements of it will still exist. It just may not exist the way it does today.”

Indianapolis’ program, founded by then-United Way of Central Indiana CEO Irv Katz and then-IPS Superintendent Shirl Gilbert, was replicated in at least 12 others cities. It was heralded as one of the leading models of community and school collaborations by Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Community Schools.

Odle said she hopes services at schools expand, rather than shrink, as a result of the changes.

“It was never the intention just to remain in a few schools,” Odle said. “The reason that we were small and only in a few schools was because that was the best way for us to manage it.”

School 58 Principal Susan Kertes teared up at the farewell event last week as she thought about the impact that the program has had on her students.

Through the program, the Taft, Stettinius & Hollister law firm pledged to spend nearly $600,000 at School 58, which pays for a full-time community and school coordinator, after-school programs and bus rides from those programs.

Without their help, Kertes said her school wouldn’t have been able to afford those programs.

“It made things that were impossible, possible,” Kertes said. “It’s meant opportunity for children and families. My words can’t truly express the gratitude I have.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

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

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