Broad strategic plan would dramatically overhaul IPS in 3 years

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students work on spelling words at IPS School 27, a Center for Inquiry magnet school.

Indianapolis Public Schools today unveiled a three-year strategic plan to reshape the school district’s management, spending and services with a goal of better academic offerings that are accessible to all students.

The plan, which the school board will discuss at a 6 p.m. meeting, is ambitious. It includes 22 top level goals among 70 specific efforts to make changes.

The strategic plan covers a wide range of initiatives, from changing the grade configurations of schools, to surveying students and families about the services they receive to starting a process that could lead to asking voters for a tax hike to help modernize some of its school buildings.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district crafted the proposal though community meetings that led to committees formed to work on aspects of the plan.

“A lot of this is very new and innovative,” he said. “A lot of this is where we want to go. We still have to work through the details of how we get there.”

Some of the bigger proposals include:

Fixing school buildings. The district would craft a plan to modernize school buildings that could start in the 2017-18 school year. It could include a referendum asking voters to approve a new bond issue.

“A referendum is on the table,” Ferebee said. “We haven’t done a bond in a while, but we’re just trying to collect property taxes right now.”

More freedom for schools. Schools would begin to take more control over their budgets, a priority for the board that has been under discussion for months, starting next year.

Shifting middle school students out of high schools. By 2017, the goal is to have a new plan for the grade configurations of schools, including a “new vision” for middle grades. Ferebee has said he prefers K-8 elementary schools over stand-alone middle schools or grouping middle grades with high schools.

Magnet school changes. A plan to redesign the district’s magnet school system in 2016. The plan could include expanding successful programs, eliminating others or adding new magnet options Ferebee said.

Making high schools better. There will be a big push to improve high schools so that more students take advanced classes, graduate and earn honors diplomas.

“We need to do a better job there in our high schools,” Ferebee said.

New ideas for how to pay teachers and assign them to schools. Changes to the system for assigning and paying teachers that are designed to more evenly spread experienced and novice teachers across the district’s 66 schools.

Hiring more diverse teachers and keeping them. The district aims to double the number of teachers it retains for the next year by 2017 and triple the number of minority teachers. The district’s teaching staff, “does not match or align with the diversity of student populations,” Ferebee said.

New opportunities for teachers. New career pathways, such as a new “lead teacher” job, should be in place by 2016-17.

A happier workplace. The district will set a goal of being ranked as one of the city’s “best places to work” by 2018.

Cutting spending everywhere possible. A priority would be to save money through a series of moves, such as cutting energy consumption, reducing the amount of supplies that are kept in a warehouse and automating tasks wherever possible.

Ferebee said he does not have a projected dollar savings amount if the plan were to succeed.

Stronger ties with charter schools. More partnerships with charter schools and other outside groups to try to overhaul the district’s lowest scoring schools. For one thing, Ferebee said, he hoped to fill up empty school space through partnerships rather than see charter schools building new.

“My goal is we don’t build another new school within IPS boundaries until we maximize space we have now,” he said.

Less movement for students. As much as possible, the goal will be to reduce how often children change schools. Ferebee said he hoped to work with the next mayor to find ways to stabilize housing so families move less and to use the district’s busing system, when possible, to reduce transfers.

“We’ve seen schools where you wouldn’t have a student in fifth or sixth grade that started there in kindergarten or first grade,” he said. “That should not be the case.”

A focus on the individual. More students should have “individualized education plans,” such as those used for students in special education, and teachers should have “professional learning plans” by 2016-17.

Welcoming English-language learners. IPS will establish a “newcomer center” to support families that are still learning English as a new language.

Together, Ferebee said, he hoped all of the ideas in the plan would lead to a new image of IPS in the minds of people who live in Indianapolis and better serve the students who attend its schools.

“How we define success will be very different,” he said, “than how we do it today.”

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