A third of George Washington High School's teachers won't return

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
George Washington High School.

Indianapolis Public Schools’ George Washington High School has lost more than a third of its teachers this summer after what the district acknowledged was a difficult transition year under a new leader.

Of the embattled West side school‘s 56 teachers, 20 won’t be returning when school starts back up Aug. 3, according to the district. Nine left IPS to take other jobs outside the district.

The change wasn’t confined to teachers. Of the 116 total staff — teachers, administrators and support workers — nearly 40 won’t return, including vice principals, front office secretaries and a dean.

George Washington, a combined middle school and high school, is led by first-year principal and Teach for America alumna Emily Butler.

Jesse Pratt, an academic improvement officer for IPS that oversees George Washington, said the turnover was normal — and expected — under a new leader. This will be Butler’s second year leading the school.

“We’ve got to challenge ourselves, we’ve got to push our students,” Pratt said. “Everything has to be better. We’re changing the culture and the climate of a school. What’s difficult is changing people’s mindsets about things. Educators in particular are very rigid about their beliefs.”

One longtime IPS teacher who decided to leave George Washington said lack of control and oversight was a motivator to look elsewhere.

Debra Aquino, who has taught high school English at the school for 10 years, recently took a job at a Lighthouse Academies charter school in Indianapolis.

“A lot of things were just swept under the rug, safety concerns, fighting,” Aquino said. “The first semester (of last year) was a nightmare. Everyone was in survival mode. I feel bad for the students because I don’t think they’re getting the high school experience they deserve.”

Butler said she was working around the clock — including scheduling multiple interviews on weekends — to get all the positions filled by the first day of school just two weeks from today.

The same problem happened last year, after Butler was hired late in the summer. Students and parents complained of substitutes filling in for months until teachers were hired.

The staff shortage meant that some students, including those receiving special education services, didn’t receive the support they needed. IPS acknowledged teachers were being pulled away from special education students to cover other classes, possibly in violation of federal law. But they said they have since stopped that practice.

That wasn’t the only issue. More than one in five Hispanic students had left the school in a single year, with some citing fights and racial tension. The school — located in one of the city’s most heavily Hispanic neighborhoods — no longer had the district’s highest share of Hispanic students after more than five years at the top of that list.

Nearby community groups called for changes at the school. But IPS dismissed the concerns, releasing a statement written by students calling them “rumors.”

IPS officials say they are looking ahead, not back.

Butler said being fully staffed will ensure the year gets off to a strong start. She’s also looking forward to a staff training session next week for new and returning teachers.

“Obviously, it’s a positive thing,” Butler said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for all of the staff to get to know each other, to build relationships with each other.”

Pratt said he will be monitoring the school’s progress over the next year but was fully confident he’d see results.

“It will be the best opening in George Washington history,” Pratt said. “We’re expecting great things out of Emily’s leadership. We’re expecting great things out of the teachers. Anything less than that is going to be considered unacceptable.”

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.