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.”

shot callers

Rico Munn’s inner circle: Meet the team leading Aurora’s district improvements

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

In five years as Aurora superintendent, Rico Munn has brought lots of change to a district that is one of the most diverse in the state and now gentrifying.

The district has become a place that is more open to charter schools, that has more flexibility for schools, and that has recently shown enough improvement to get off of the state’s watchlist for low-performance.

Recently, more change came with the election of four new union-backed union-backed board members after a campaign that saw more outside money than in any recent years.

The district still faces significant challenges, like declining enrollment and the task of improving academic achievement at several schools that are low-performing, including Aurora Central High School, which is now on a state-ordered plan for improvement.

The school board has offered Munn a two-year contract extension. A vote on that contract is set for Tuesday. Munn recently filled one of his cabinet positions after having an interim in the position since September when former chief academic officer, John Youngquist, left to return to Denver Public Schools.

With new members on Munn’s leadership team, officials are embarking on several significant projects, including writing a budget for next school year and working on a process to create a new strategic plan to guide the district through enrollment changes. Some schools have declining enrollment while the city rapidly expands on its eastern boundaries.

Here is a look at the seven people who report directly to Munn who are working on those projects, based on information provided by the district.

Marcelina Rivera

Marcelina Rivera, chief of strategic management
Salary: $160,121
Job description: To provide leadership, direction, and guidance for the chiefs of finance, human resources, support services, and the director of accountability and research. Leads the work related to how human and material resources are used to support the teaching and learning initiatives in the district. Develops clear goals, processes, timelines, and messaging to drive resource support for the academic improvement of all students. Aligns work with the chief academic officer. Drives the work in the school district’s strategic plan.

Bio: Rivera took the Aurora position in 2015. She has a law degree and previously worked at Yale Law School. Most recently, Rivera owned her own consulting firm, was an adjunct lecturer in English as a Second Language at the University of Denver, served as executive director of the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, and was assistant superintendent and general counsel to The New America Schools.

Andre Wright, chief academic officer

Andre Wright. (Courtesy of Aurora Public Schools).

Salary: $171,000
Job description: Responsible for providing leadership, direction, and guidance for the strategic initiatives and day-to-day operations of the Division of Equity in Learning. Develops clear goals, processes, timelines, and messaging to drive academic improvement for all students. Leads the work to provide school-specific support to roll out district initiatives. Aligns work with the chief of strategic management on use of human and material resources.

Bio: Wright was appointed interim chief academic officer in September. Prior to the appointment, Wright served as a director of learning, overseeing a group of 10 schools since July 2014. Before coming to Aurora, Wright was area executive director for the Northeast Learning Community in the Atlanta-area Fulton County School System. He also served as a principal, instructional leader and assistant principal and first began his education career teaching middle school language arts.

Damon Smith

Damon Smith, chief personnel officer
Salary: $162,614
Job description: Responsible for coordinating all employment issues for the district, including overseeing all personnel budgets, troubleshooting issues, negotiating contracts with the local bargaining unit, recruiting, training, allocating, evaluating, and terminating staff. Also responsible for writing, revising, and rolling out policy and procedures, and representing the Human Resources Department on committees, boards, and councils.

Bio: Smith took over his current position in 2011, but has worked in public education for 26 years, serving as a school social worker, dean of students, assistant principal, principal, and central office administrator in the Denver and Aurora school districts. Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and master’s degree from the University of Denver. Smith is also a graduate of Aurora Public Schools and has been a member of the Aurora community since 1975.

Patti Moon

Patti Moon, chief communications officer
Salary: $136,171
Job description: Provide leadership in developing, achieving, and maintaining proactive planning and communication outputs for district initiatives. Continually coordinate, analyze, and evaluate complex ideas and situations and communicate these items in easy-to-understand language. Also required to effectively communicate, negotiate, and advise. Also provides communications or public relations training, counsel, and advice to schools and departments.

Bio: Moon joined Aurora as the public information officer in March 2014. She was named the chief communications officer in February 2017. Prior to working for the district, Moon was a television journalist who worked in Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. She was a TV reporter and anchor working on stories on a wide range of topics including education, health, and crime. Moon earned both her bachelor and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. She is fluent in Korean and speaks French conversationally. Moon is a Colorado native who graduated from Lakewood High School.

Brandon Eyre

Brandon Eyre, legal counsel
Salary: $162,614
Job description: Responsible for providing legal services to the Board of Education and district administration. Supervises outside counsel doing the same. Communicate to appropriate staff any changes, updates, and recent interpretations of school and employment law. Conduct legal research and draft legal documents including contracts, policies, and correspondence. Supervises the district’s internal auditor.

Bio: Eyre came to Aurora in 2012 from Oregon where he was a partner at Baum, Smith and Eyre, LLC. Eyre’s practice focused primarily on municipal law and served clients throughout eastern Oregon. He represented public sector clients such as the La Grande School District, Union Baker Education Service District and the cities of Elgin, North Powder and Joseph, Oregon. Brandon earned his degrees from Brigham Young University.

Anthony Sturges, chief operations officer

Anthony Sturges

Salary: $182,497
Job description: Responsible for providing administrative and logistical direction and leadership to create and maintain safe, adaptable, and highly functional school and work environments. Serves as incident commander of the incident response team and is the district’s liaison to City of Aurora first responder groups including police and fire departments. Supervises the operational activities of athletics and activities, construction management and support, information technology, maintenance and operations, planning, security, transportation, and facility rental.

Bio: Sturges is a graduate of Hinkley High School in Aurora. He started working as a U.S. History and American Government teacher at Denver’s East High School in 1988 and came back to Aurora in 1993 to teach Honors U.S. History at Rangeview High School and then served as the Dean of Students at Aurora Central High School. From 1998 to 2002, he served as assistant principal for Thunder Ridge High School. In 2002, he became Aurora’s human resources director. Sturges has been in his current position since 2005.

Brett Johnson

Brett Johnson, chief financial officer
Salary: $162,993
Job description: Responsible for advising the superintendent and school board on the financial and budget matters of the district. Also prepares and administers the district budget, guides the development of long-term capital financing methods, directs and supervises all business or finance functions including, but not limited to, risk management, budgeting, and grants management while adhering to district policies and procedures.

Bio: Johnson took over the district’s finance department in March 2017. Prior to working for the Aurora district, Johnson served as the director of the office of major project development for the Colorado Department of Transportation. At CDOT, he explored new methods to finance and procure major transportation projects. He has also worked as the deputy treasurer for Colorado and as the finance manager for the Governor’s Energy Office. During his time as deputy treasurer, Johnson focused on banking, investment, and accounting services. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of Colorado.

New Leadership

New leader at Memphis state-run school ‘best candidate’ despite domestic assault conviction

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Westside Middle students will start the next school year under the new leadership of Rodney Peterson and Frayser Community Schools.

Seven years after a domestic assault charge took Rodney Peterson out of the running to lead a Memphis middle school, he is set to become the principal of that same school this fall as it enters a new chapter run by a charter network in Tennessee’s state-run turnaround district.

Peterson officially takes the helm of Westside Achievement Middle School next year, according to leaders of Frayser Community Schools, which will take over operations of the school.

Bobby White, the CEO and founder of the charter organization, introduced Peterson on Thursday during a meeting of the Frayser Exchange Club.

“(Peterson) is the best candidate we had available to lead and operate this school,” White told Chalkbeat. “He has been in this city for six years now in different capacity and leadership roles, and is highly recommended.”

White said that a panel of eight Frayser community members selected Peterson as principal over three other finalists. White added that they had discussed Peterson’s past and determined he was ready to take lead as principal. 

PHOTO: Frayser Community Schools
Bobby White introduced Rodney Peterson during a meeting of the Frayser Exchange Club.

“He has had three leadership positions in the last six years since he left Boston,” White said. “No one has surfaced or talked about any of those things. This needed to be something [Peterson and community members] talked about. After their conversations, we were confident that this wasn’t something that would impact the role of leading this school.”

Peterson was offered the Westside job in 2012 but he withdrew his candidacy after the charges became public.

In 2011, Peterson was arrested and charged in Boston for assaulting his then-wife, Dee Griffin, a former Memphis news anchor. Peterson was then a school leader under Boston Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, a former Memphis City Schools superintendent. He resigned in 2012 from his Boston leadership position and served a one-year probation.

Johnson was criticized for not disciplining Peterson following the assault and later apologized. According to the Boston Globe, Johnson wrote a letter to the judge who sentenced Peterson, describing him as “among our most outstanding school leaders.” She gave him a reference when he first applied for principal of Westside in 2012. Johnson later launched an investigation into whether Peterson abused sick time policy while in Boston and revamped how the district handled criminal background checks.

I’ve dealt with the situation and moved on from it, and to respect everyone involved, that’s all that I’d like to say about it,” Peterson told Chalkbeat. “My biggest priority now is ensuring all of the families that I serve trust that I am committed to their child’s education and success. I’m excited to return back to Westside.”

He said he returned to Memphis to run his own business after leaving Boston. Peterson later was a dean at Westside Middle before becoming assistant principal at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, a charter school. He was most recently an assistant principal at the high school run by Frayser Community Schools.

Now, Peterson will take the helm at Westside as the school is once again in transition. The school has been run since 2012 directly by the Achievement School District, but will be operated by Frayser Community Schools beginning next school year. After the handoff, the school will remain under the oversight of the state-run district.

Bobby White, chief of external affairs for the turnaround district (no relation to Bobby White of Frayser Community Schools), said he was aware of the appointment and attended the Thursday meeting.

Sara Gast, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, could not confirm if district officials were aware of Peterson’s past charge. Charter operators are now required to notify the ASD if any employees had flags on their background checks after discovering last year that a Memphis interim principal at a different charter school had a federal felony conviction.

“Charter schools have discretion in who they hire, but we would expect that Achievement School District leadership would be involved if the charter operator was promoting an educator who had something of interest on a prior background check,” Gast said. “In this case, since this individual is a current school leader, we are checking with Frayser Community Schools to determine what process occurred.”

Frayser Community Schools was founded in 2014 by White, a former Memphis principal who started with one high school: Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School. Last fall, the homegrown charter network took control of Humes Middle School when Gestalt Community Schools, another Memphis-based network, exited the state-run district.

Since Westside was taken over by the state in 2013, the school has struggled with lagging enrollment, low test scores, and high teacher and principal turnover. Enrollment has fallen by half since 2012, and the school lost 18 percent of students just this school year.

The state-run district is looking to Frayser Community Schools to turn around the school in terms of safety, enrollment, and academics. White — who was the principal of Westside nine years ago — said he believed Peterson was right for the job.

“The community is 100 percent behind this decision,” White said. “I believe he can lead the school back to the prominence we once experienced.”

Peterson said he has built “extensive relationships” while at MLK Prep and is looking forward to bringing his experience to Westside.

“I am so thankful and excited to be able to continue to serve the kids and families in the community from which I grew up,” he said. “I have built some great relationships with many students and their families in the community, and I look forward to continuing that as we strive to help all the students of Westside Middle School achieve success.”