An Indianapolis elementary school’s principal resigned abruptly, highlighting ongoing chaos, neighborhood leaders said tonight in a meeting called to try to rally support for the school and push for improvement.
“It’s about to implode,” said Brenda Vance Paschal, who leads the education committee for the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, where the school is located.
IPS academic improvement officer Jesse Pratt, who oversees schools on the Westside, said Principal Nicole Walker of School 43 resigned last Tuesday without warning. For the remainder of this year, Rhonda Corr will serve as the interim principal at School 43. Corr, who joined IPS in August, usually oversees academic improvement on the Eastside. She has experience as a principal, as well as in district administration.
About 70 people showed up for the meeting, which was held at the Martin Luther King Community Center. They also raised concerns about high teacher turnover and large numbers of inexperienced teachers at School 43.
Superintendent Lewis Ferebee spent about an hour observing the meeting and took a question about why IPS has taken so long to intervene before leaving.
“To have a great school, you have to have a great leader,” Ferebee said. “We have to find the right leader to move the school forward.”
Over the last few years, principals have cycled in and out of the school. Walker joined the staff in September after the academic year began and stayed just six months. The prior permanent principal, David Bennett, also was hired part way into the year and left last June, just eight months into the position.
“IPS will stick anybody over there out of town, who are not familiar with the city, who are not familiar with IPS,” Paschal said. “They come and they go. We don’t want to be a turnstile door.”
IPS officials offered a plan for improving conditions at the school at the meeting. It calls for adding two assistant principals, an instructional coach and assistants focused on student behavior. The school currently has four vacant positions, including three teachers, Pratt said.
Damon Lee’s fourth-grade twins are in separate classrooms, but neither one currently has a teacher, he said. Both teachers quit within the last few weeks. Lee is a special education teacher at Arlington High School who also has a kindergartener at School 43.
Without consistent leadership, the school hasn’t had any organization or structure, he said.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Lee said.
Since the principal resigned last week, IPS has brought in a team to review the school’s management and instruction, said Pratt. The district was already planning to boost support at the school, he said. The review and improvements started with basics, like hiring a friendly front office receptionist and bringing in staff to clean the building, Pratt said.
The plan also includes a renewed focus on positive ways of improving student behavior, he said, such as positive reinforcement and rewards.
“Accountability for adults in the building is critical,” Pratt said. “One of the things we are already talking about is yelling at kids. We just don’t think that’s appropriate.”
While some people at the meeting were enthusiastic about the district’s commitment to School 43, others were frustrated that the district hadn’t acted sooner.
“Why did it take an implosion for them to come out?” Paschal said. “The parents have been calling there all year.”