Indiana

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.”

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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