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.”

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