Future of Schools

Questions remain about Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett's education plans

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Indianapolis Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett won easily in Tuesday's election.

The question about Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett, who cruised to an easy defeat of Chuck Brewer Tuesday, that people in education in the city want answered is pretty simple: what kind of Democrat will he be?

Will Hogsett be a “new” Democrat in the mold of former Mayor Bart Peterson and continue what Peterson began 15 years ago — a consistent stretch of education policy that favors opening new charter schools and change in Indianapolis Public Schools?

Or will he prove to be a traditional Democrat, standing with unions, party leaders and most Democrats who see charter schools and other reform efforts as an attack on working class teachers and other school employees or an effort to create a pathway for companies to profit from education?

Hogsett defeated Brewer easily Tuesday, returning the mayor’s office to Democratic control for the first time in eight years when Mayor Greg Ballard leaves office in January.

But in a campaign that focused on crime and other issues, with education mostly in the background, Hogsett straddled the fence between the two Democratic camps on school issues.

Hogsett likes to point out that he represented the Indiana State Teachers Association early in his career as an attorney, and several unions gave his campaign $10,000 or more. But he has strong ties to Peterson allies, some of whom have pushed to expand charter schools and make other changes in education since the end of his second term in 2008. Peterson himself even contributed $10,500 to Hogsett’s campaign.

His five-point education plan focused on issues that sound more traditional than reform-oriented: Studying ways to reduce the impact of poverty on schools, expanding state-supported preschool for poor children, launching a mentoring program for kids, selling city-owned homes for little or no cost to teachers and working to ensure discipline in schools is fair to children of all races.

Hogsett also told Chalkbeat last year he saw the mayor’s role as more of a “convener” than an activist and thought the scope of the mayor’s education policy should focus less on Indianapolis Public Schools and draw in township schools more often.

But in the same interview, Hogsett heaped praise on IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee for embracing bold ideas, some of which have angered teachers unions and other traditional Democrats. Ferebee has forged a series of partnerships with charter schools and has called for tougher teacher evaluation in the district, for example.

Hogsett said his top priorities were teacher pay and teacher quality. He said he supported the charter schools that Peterson and Ballard helped launch since 2002, but he also called for tough accountability for charter schools that fail. He was not enthusiastic about public funding of private school tuition through vouchers.

Last week he called for improved communication from IPS in the wake of recent decisions to close Key Learning Community School and shift programs at two other schools that angered parents who said they were not told about the plan before it was publicly discussed.

breaking

A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”