Who Is In Charge

Two struggling IPS schools could be 'restarted' next year

Shanae Staples, left, met with parents at School 69 Thursday to discuss her plan for restarting the school as Kindezi Academy.

Indianapolis Public School is likely to “restart” two long-struggling schools next year so that they will be run in partnership with newly founded charter schools.

Joyce Kilmer School 69 and Riverside School 44 appear set to join a growing cadre of schools in the IPS “innovation network.”

“Both of those schools have been chronically failing and underperforming for consecutive years,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “It’s not just been one year, two years — it’s been multiple years of underperformance.”

Ferebee’s team will recommend that School 44 be run by Global Preparatory Academy, the first charter school founded by former Pike Township principal Mariama Carson, and that School 69 be run by Kindezi Academy, a charter school founded by Shanae Staples and Kevin Kubacki, who also created the Enlace Academy charter school.

The IPS board will hear about these proposed partnerships next week, but Ferebeee does not expect the board to vote on them until a later meeting.

Both School 44 and School 69 were named “priority” schools by the district, and they have received extra support and resources since 2014. The possibility of restarting the schools with outside charter managers has been on the horizon for a while, and the district has been leading parent meetings to discuss improving the schools, district officials said.

Another reason the administration chose these schools for restart is because leadership is in flux at both schools, Ferebee said. The principal at School 44, Kirshawndra Davis, resigned effective July 1. School 69 has two part-time principals, who came out of retirement to lead the school.

“We believe that there are windows here that we need to take advantage of, of restarting schools that have really struggled in the past,” Ferebee said.

As innovation schools, School 44 and School 69 would convert to charter schools under contract with the district, but the state would attribute their student test scores to IPS. Teachers and staff at innovation schools are not part of IPS unions, so they do not share IPS employee contracts.

The move would be another step toward shared management with charter schools to try to turn around the lowest scoring IPS schools. The strategy has strong support from the school board but has raised concerns among some parents and school communities that the district is giving away control over too many schools.

“To really get the school where it needs to be, the school needs to be able to operate with the maximum amount of flexibility to make decisions,” said Aleesia Johnson, the district’s innovation chief.

Building a neighborhood charter school

School 69 has a long record of poor performance on state tests. It received F grades from the state for the latest four years available, and only 13 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2015. District administrators hope to partner with Kindezi to restart the Eastside elementary school, Ferebee said.

Kindezi is the brainchild of Staples and Kubacki, who received a fellowship from the non-profit Mind Trust to develop the idea. In 2013, the pair launched a charter school, Enlace Academy, that rented space in an IPS building. Last year, it became an innovation school, giving it access to district services. Kindezi will share the same philosophy of high expectations for all students and approach to teaching, Staples said.

But she emphasized that it won’t merely replicate Enlace. Kindezi leaders will work with parents and the community to craft a school to fit their needs. Like Enlace, Kindezi will use blended learning, with kids splitting their class time between online course work, teacher-led instruction and small student groups.

The charter school will be open to students from outside the neighborhood, but Staples said the goal is to mostly draw students who live near the school.

Staples said building good neighborhood schools is important to her because of her own experience in school. She grew up in a low-income, black neighborhood in Miami, she said, and her parents scraped together the money to send her to private school in another area. The school was transformative, she said, but it was like living a separate life from the one she had at home.

“I did miss out on that piece of being a part of the community, and being in a school where the culture reflected my own,” she said. “We want to be a neighborhood school. We want to be a community hub.”

A high-quality neighborhood school is precisely what Charron Perry, a parent at School 69, wants for her son.

When her son was in first grade last year, he had five different teachers, Perry said. She thinks School 69 needs more teachers and structure. But she kept her son enrolled because it’s their neighborhood school — the same school she attended as a child and the school where her mother used to teach.

“I’ve always loved School 69,” she said. “I wanted to keep him there because he’s in this neighborhood. He knows the kids in this neighborhood.”

Perry is excited about Kindezi because the new school plans to have two teachers in each classroom and an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math.

“We do need a change,” she said. “I want to see what my son can do.”

Teaching kids in both English and Spanish

The proposed charter school partner at School 44 will also serve students in the neighborhood, but it will be a dual language school in which students are taught in both English and Spanish.

School 44 has three years of F grades from the state, and it is among a handful of schools in the district that had a single digit pass rate on ISTEP last year — only 14 students, 8 percent, passed both sections of the test.

Global Prep is led by Carson, who also received a Mind Trust fellowship to plan her school. As a principal in Pike Township, Carson — who is married to U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis — helped turn around a low-scoring elementary school.

Global Prep aims to help students achieve the fluency of native Spanish speakers. Classes will have two teachers, a native Spanish speaker who will teach entirely in that language and a teacher who will lead lessons in English.

“In order for students to learn a language meaningfully,” Carson said. “It needs to happen when they are little, and it needs to be embedded in content and language.”

The dual-language program will begin in grades K-2, Carson said. Each year the school will add a grade until it is K-8. The school will continue to serve neighborhood kids in grades 3-6 next year, Carson said, but classes won’t follow the dual-language model because those students won’t have enough time in the school to gain fluency.

Carson initially planned to launch a charter school that would be independent from IPS, but last summer she began talking with district leaders about the possibility of running an innovation school in an IPS building. She decided to create an innovation school instead of an independent charter school in part because of the services the district could can offer — from busing and custodial care to special education, she said.

The students at Global Prep will be split about fifty-fifty between kids who speak Spanish at home and native English speakers, Carson said. To balance the population at the school, where only about 20 percent of students are native Spanish speakers, she recruited students from neighborhoods around its boundaries.

Most of the families Carson met with while she was recruiting were enthusiastic about an immersion school, she said.

“The economic benefit, especially for families in poverty that I spoke to is a big (factor),” she said.

A growing innovation network

Innovation schools are a relatively new idea, first authorized in 2014 by House Bill 1321. Although there are now several schools in the IPS innovation network, most were started from scratch or became innovation schools after launching as traditional charter schools.

The only school to convert from a traditional IPS school to an innovation school so far is School 103, which last summer was taken over by the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school network. Earl Martin Phalen and Marlon Llewellyn also received a Mind Trust fellowship to adapt the model at Phalen Leadership Academy to work in IPS schools. Llewellyn is no longer involved with the school.

Several organizations were interested in partnering with IPS at to create additional innovation schools, according to Ferebee. The selection of two more schools incubated by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based group that has been a strong advocate for change in IPS schools, demonstrated district confidence in its programs.

“These are two very, very talented and experienced educators,” said Steve Campbell, vice-president of communications for the Mind Trust. “The ideas that they have for our schools are exactly what we’re looking for — innovative, creative and with a commitment to high quality.”

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”