Who Is In Charge

Mary Ann Sullivan, former legislator, poised to become new IPS school board president

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Mary Ann Sullivan, who was elected to the Indianapolis Public School Board in 2014, is expected to be named board president Friday.

The Indianapolis Public School Board has been transformed since 2012 by outsiders pushing changes but former state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan could be the first one to be picked as board president.

Sullivan said she’s interested in the job, and none of her fellow board members has yet emerged as a potential challenger. The new president will be named at Friday’s organizational meeting to begin the new year.

“I’ve expressed an interest in that role,” Sullivan said. “We’ll see how things go. I’ve been working on a lot of these issues for a long, long time. … I’d be very interested in playing a larger leadership role.”

Sullivan, a Democrat who sometimes bucked her party by supporting charter schools and other reforms was defeated in a run for the Indiana Senate in 2012 but then won a school board seat in a landslide in 2014.

“It requires somebody with a lot of skills in diplomacy,” said board member Kelly Bentley, who served as president during a prior term on the board. “I think (Mary Ann) will do a good job of that.”

The board has not yet chosen or publicly discussed as a group who will serve as the next president. But Chalkbeat interviewed several board members, and none expressed interest in leading the board or knew of any other members who planned to throw their hats in the ring. The field is also narrowed because four of the seven board seats are up for election this fall, and some members are reluctant to choose a president who will be on the ballot.

Serving as board president is a significant commitment, said board member Sam Odle. He had expressed interest in the position in past years, but he is no longer looking to be board president, he said.

Although Sullivan is relatively new to the IPS board, she is a political veteran and long-time advocate for education reform, dating to her time as an IPS parent. As member of Indiana House of Representatives, she was known for supporting policies like accountability and school choice.

The board has gotten a complete overhaul thanks to the well-financed and highly contested elections of 2012 and 2014 — six of the seven members now consistently support education reform proposals such as school autonomy and innovation schools.

But Sullivan would be the first of the newly elected members to lead the IPS board. The current president, Diane Arnold, is supportive of the same reform efforts but pre-dates the latest push for change. She was elected in 2004, before the board shakeup. The shift would be largely symbolic.

“(Mary Ann) represents some of the changes the board majority has made clear that we want to move toward,” Bentley said.

The board has demonstrated strong support for district plans such as reducing the central office, increasing freedom for principals and partnering with outside organizations to manage some schools. The next year could be politically volatile, however, because four seats are on the ballot this fall.

What isn’t clear yet, is who will for run those seats — whether incumbents or challengers — and which races will be the most competitive. The board members up for election include Odle, Arnold, Michael O’Connor and Gayle Cosby.

Keeping on experienced members will help the board pursue its goals, said Odle, who is planning to run again.

O’Connor — who joined the board this fall, after Caitlin Hannon left the board for a Mind Trust fellowship — said he is thinking carefully about whether he has the time to run for reelection or serve another term on the board. He expects to decide within the next couple of months.

Arnold and Cosby did not respond to requests for comment.

Because the election is non-partisan, there is no primary and the filing deadline is not until Aug. 26. The election is Nov. 8.

Cosby won her seat in 2012 with the help of significant funding from organizations that support reform, including the Indiana chapter of advocacy group Stand for Children, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Democrats for Education Reform.

But as a board member, she has sometimes opposed policies favored by reformers, particularly plans to partner with outside organizations to manage IPS schools. With her seat up for election, some of those who helped her win last time could work against her reelection.

Executive Director of Stand for Children Indiana, Justin Ohlemiller, declined to discuss whether the group will support Cosby or endorse another candidate this early in the year. But he shared an email from a Stand parent-leader criticizing Cosby.

“Each school board member that decides to run again will have a record, and they’ll have the opportunity … to talk about their record with the parents in the organization,” he said. “Gayle will have that opportunity as well as other incumbents.”

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.