Idea of one enrollment system for IPS, charters gaining traction

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The IPS administration is proposing adding more career training programs to high schools.

Every summer, David Brunsting’s job as vice principal at Arsenal Tech High School is tougher than it has to be: even after registration week, he has no idea how many students will actually show up to school on the first day of classes.

That’s because everything changes in a short matter of months.

In June, he may be expecting 1,900 kids. But during registration, parents come out in huge numbers and form long lines to sign up. The school’s enrollment may balloon to 2,100 kids.

Then come the inevitable first-day-of-school no shows. As Brunsting calls parents, he prepares for the impending scheduling nightmare.

“(They say) ‘I’m at Herron High School,'” Brunsting said. “Or ‘I’m at North Central High School.’ We’ll probably settle into somewhere around 2,000 kids, but I really don’t know.”

Could one school enrollment system between IPS and the city’s charter schools alleviate that annual struggle and help schools plan better? Brunsting and other school and community leaders say they think so.

“School choice is here whether you like it or not,” Brunsting said Wednesday at a Teach Plus-sponsored event to explore how a unified school enrollment system could work in Indianapolis. “Now you have to figure out how to work with it, deal with it and make it equitable.”

The prospect of combining IPS’s enrollment system with charter schools isn’t a new one — Teach Plus proposed it back in 2013 — but the idea has gained traction recently with local education leaders.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said last month that he’d had “very preliminary” conversations with city leaders about creating a single enrollment system after the advocacy group Stand For Children pitched a simpler plan under which charter and public schools would simply share data. And Teach Plus in May released a report that found school leaders had “regret and frustration” about the fact that many Indianapolis parents don’t understand their options for selecting a school for their child.

Proponents argued tonight that a single process for applying to all schools would make the system more fair and give all students an equal shot at attending a school with high test scores. Opponents of the idea have said that such a system benefits charter schools more than IPS and gives an edge to the district’s competitors.

“A huge part of school choice is just information,” said Gabriela Fighetti, deputy director of the national Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, who attended the meeting and has been working with Teach Plus. “It means we have to all come together and try to set policies that work for the whole even if they don’t work as well for some individuals. It requires a give and take on both sides to achieve a greater good for the whole city.”

That’s key for Miriam Acevedo, whose organization La Plaza supports Hispanic families. Hispanics make up about 23 percent of IPS’s enrollment, but Acevedo said many families don’t know they can apply to magnet schools, charter schools or other programs.

“Families feel really disrespected by the system and not welcome,” Acevedo said. “Open enrollment will certainly ensure that all families have equal access to quality schools.”

Emily Pelino, executive director of KIPP Indianapolis, said she frequently speaks with parents who don’t know their high school options in Indianapolis, or where to go to enroll.

“There’s a lot of misinformation,” Pelino said. “We hear similar feedback from them in terms of lack of transparency, not knowing timelines.”

Brunsting said his position on unified enrollment evolved as he learned more. He was skeptical at first, he said. But now he’s in favor of parents having an easier time making choices about where they’d like their kids to go.

“As a public school supporter, if I can get a system where somebody can see (Arsenal Tech’s) math and science magnet, New Tech High and see how awesome those programs are, then I think that only helps IPS,” he said. “We may lose some too. That’s fine. To me, if that’s the best school for that kid, that’s a good thing.”

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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