school choice

Tindley dominates the list of top 10 Indianapolis charter schools for passing ISTEP

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Kayla Davis works on a college admissions form. Stock photos for Chalkbeat stories. Photos made at Tindley Accelerated School, 3960 Meadows Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana. Nov. 22, 2013. (Photo by Alan Petersime)

More new charter schools took ISTEP for the first time in 2015 — and some of them did very well.

Among the ten charter schools in the city that had the highest percentage of students who passed the state exam last year, three were new schools whose students took ISTEP for the first time.

Two of those schools are affiliated with the Tindley Accelerated Schools charter school network — Tindley Renaissance and Tindley Summit academies — giving the network four spots among the top 10 charter schools in the city for ISTEP passing percentage.

In 2015, 26 charter schools in the city took the exam, up from 18 last year. The increase comes as the city has seen a dramatic increase in the total number of charter schools. All charter schools must take the annual exam but some schools initially enroll younger students who won’t take the exam until they enter third grade. The test is given to students in grades 3-8.

Chalkbeat in recent weeks highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam and the 10 IPS schools that ranked lowest for percent passing ISTEP. In the coming weeks, stories on the lowest scoring charter schools and the top and bottom ranked township and small city schools in Indianapolis will follow.

Tindley has had a difficult year outside the classroom. It has struggled financially after enrollment did not keep up with its ambitious expansion plan. Questions also were raised about the network’s spending and borrowing practices. That was followed by the resignation of CEO Marcus Robinson.

But when it came to ISTEP, the four Tindley schools where students took the exam all posted strong results. All four Tindley schools exceeded the 29 percent passing rate, which was the districtwide average Indianapolis Public Schools. Three Indianapolis charter schools also beat the state average. In all, 11 Indianapolis charter schools exceeded the IPS passing rate. But the majority — 15 charter schools — scored below the IPS average.

Paramount School of Excellence took over the top spot on the ranking in 2015 from the prior year’s No. 1, Tindley Collegiate Academy. Paramount, Tindley Collegiate and the Hoosier Academy of Indianapolis, a hybrid school with some courses taught online and some in classrooms, had passing rates above the statewide average of 52.5 percent. By comparison, four of the 59 IPS schools that took ISTEP scored above the state average. Here’s a look at the charter schools that landed in top ten:

Paramount School of Excellence

A community-based charter school on the East side of Indianapolis, Paramount School of Excellence has been rising up the ranking when it comes to passing ISTEP for several years.

Paramount School of Excellence was the top scoring charter school in Indianapolis on 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Paramount School of Excellence was the top scoring charter school in Indianapolis on 2015.

Its 65.6 percent passing rate was well above  IPS and state averages and placed the school among the top 15 scorers in Marion County. That passing rate was better also than most township schools.

The school’s passing rate, like nearly all schools in the state last year, fell from the prior year. But it’s test score drop of 13 percentage points was smaller than the average 19 percentage point drop at schools around the state.

Paramount is known as the school where students grow fruits and vegetables and raise animals, and its scores have been on the rise. Its state grade improved to an A from a D in 2014 over three years.

The school serves about 653 students in grades K to 8. It is also known for its racial balance. About 48 percent of the school’s students are black, 28 percent are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are multiracial.

About 84 percent of the students are from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. To qualify, a family of four must earn less than $44,863 annually. By comparison, at the average IPS school 71 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for meal assistance.

About 6 percent of students at Paramount are English language learners and 16 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available. That’s compared to IPS where the 16 percent of students are English-language learners and 18 percent are in special education.

The school is locally managed and not part of any network.

Tindley Collegiate Academy

Tindley Collegiate Academy, on the northeast side of Indianapolis, is the network’s girls-only middle school.

Tindley Collegiate was one of four Tindley charter schools ranked in the city's top 10 for ISTEP scores.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Collegiate was one of four Tindley charter schools ranked in the city’s top 10 for ISTEP scores.

The school, which opened in 2013, serves 316 girls in grades 5-8. About 58 percent of its students passed ISTEP last year, down 27 percentage points from 2014. But its passing rate was still good enough to beat the IPS average and put the school in second place among city charter schools.

About 76 percent of Tindley Collegiate’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 92 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, 1 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic, making it one of the city’s most racially isolated schools.

By comparison, IPS averages districtwide are 50 percent black, 20 percent white and 23 percent Hispanic.

About 13 percent of the school’s students are in special education classes and none were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Tindley is a local charter school network based in Indianapolis that has opened all of its schools in and around the Avondale Meadows neighborhood.

Hoosier Academy of Indianapolis

The Indianapolis campus of this school is a hybrid through which students do some coursework online and some at the school. It serves about 240 students in grades K-8.

Hoosier Academy Indianapolis is a hybrid school at which some student work is done online and some at the school.
Hoosier Academy Indianapolis is a hybrid school at which some student work is done online and some at the school.

With nearly 58 percent of students passing ISTEP in 2015, the school beat the state average and appeared for the first time among the top 10 charter schools. Its passing rate fell 10 percentage points from the prior year, a smaller drop than most schools in the state.

Hoosier Academy Indianapolis serves a wealthier and less diverse student body than most charter schools in the city. Only about 20 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 72 percent of students are white, 22 percent are black and 2 percent are Hispanic.

About 19 percent of students are in special education and less than 1 percent are learning English as a new language.

The school has an online-only statewide sister school, Hoosier Academies Virtual School. Both are affiliated with K12, a national for-profit company that supports a nationwide network of online charter schools.

Irvington Community School

Located on the East side, Irvington Community School held steady on a tougher ISTEP.

Irvington Community School is one of the city's oldest charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Irvington Community School is one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

For several years, the school has scored just above or just below the state’s average passing rate for ISTEP. That was true again in 2015. With 51.7 percent of students passing, Irvington was just below the state average.

Irvington’s passing rate fell 19 percentage points from 2014, exactly the average drop for the typical Indiana school.

The large school serves 1,043 students in grades K to 12. It is less diverse than most Indianapolis charter schools. About 70 percent of students are white, 11 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic. About 62 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Less than 2 percent of students are English-language learners and about 14 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

The schools is locally managed and not part of any network.

Tindley Renaissance Academy

The Tindley network opened this elementary school in 2013. In its first year reporting ISTEP scores, Tindley Renaissance nearly reached the state average passing rate at 51 percent.

Tindley Renaissance Academy serves elementary school students.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Renaissance Academy serves elementary school students.

The school was the Tindley network’s first foray into elementary school grades  after starting with middle and high schools.

Tindley network schools have proven unusually adept at posting high passing rates quickly on ISTEP. Even most high-scoring charter schools have seen their scores rise more slowly over several years.

The school serves about 411 students on the city’s Northeast side. About 75 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 94 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent white.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and Tindley Renaissance had no English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Tindley Preparatory Academy

The Tindley network’s first expansion was Tindley Preparatory Academy, an all-boys middle school that opened in 2012.

The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.

It posted a top 10 passing rate again among charter schools in 2015.

About 49 percent of students passed the exam, down 26 percentage points from the prior year. That was a bigger drop than the average Indiana school but not enough to knock Tindley Prep from the top 10.

The school, located in Northeast Indianapolis, has an enrollment of 227 students in grades 5-8, and about 76 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 91 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, 1 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic.

About 19 percent of students were in special education and less than 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Christel House Academy South

The south campus of Christel House was the network’s first school and is one of the oldest charter schools in the state. It has generally ranked high for percent of students passing ISTEP.

Christel House Academy South is one of the city's oldest charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Christel House Academy South is one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

In 2015, about 45.5 percent of students passed the test, down about 26 percentage points from the prior year. That was a bigger drop than the average Indiana school saw on the tougher ISTEP exam.

The school is part of a worldwide network of schools run by Indianapolis philanthropist Christel DeHaan. It has a sister school on the city’s West side and is also connected to high schools that work with at-risk students who have dropped out of other schools.

Christel House South appears to have moved passed controversies from recent years when it argued lower test scores and state grades it received were driven by errors in ISTEP scoring and unfair treatment that its leaders said affected the school and others with unusual grade configurations.

About 94 percent of students who attend the school are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is very diverse, with about 46 percent of students who are Hispanic, 30 percent who are white and 16 percent who are black.

About 12 percent of students were in special education and 25 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Avondale Meadows Academy

A consistently high-scoring school on ISTEP, Avondale Meadows Academy saw about 44 percent of students pass ISTEP in 2015.

Avondale Meadows is one of the city's highest scoring charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Avondale Meadows is one of the city’s highest scoring charter schools.

Formerly known as the Challenge Foundation Academy, the school’s passing rate dropped by 28 percentage points, a bigger drop than the average Indiana school on the new, harder ISTEP exam.

The school serves 469 students in grades K to 5. It is located close to several Tindley Accelerated Schools in the Northeast Indianapolis neighborhood known as Avondale Meadows. It is part of a fledgling local charter school network, with a sister school opening in 2014 north of downtown known as Visions Academy, but is no longer affiliated with the Challenge Foundation.

About 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The school is about 95 percent black, 3 percent multiracial and 2 percent white.

About 14 percent of students were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data were available.

Tindley Summit Academy

Another recently opened school that was part of the rapid expansion of the Tindley Accelerated Schools network, Tindley Summit Academy opened in 2014 and serves students in grades K to 4.

065_Chalkbeat_Selects
Tindley Summit is one of two charter schools in the Tindley network that reported scores for the first time in 2015 and ranked in the city’s top 10.

About 44 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2015, which was the first year the school reported scores.

The school is part of cluster of high-scoring Tindley schools located on the city’s Northeast side.

Tindley Summit serves 292 students.

About 78 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 90 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Phalen Leadership Academy

Phalen Leadership is the flagship school for an emerging charter school network based in Indianapolis run by Earl Martin Phalen. In its first year reporting ISTEP scores in 2015, the school saw about 39 percent of students pass ISTEP and made the city’s top 10 list for charter school test performance.

Phalen Leadership Academy was founded by Earl Martin Phalen, the inventor of the SummerAdvantage program.
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Phalen Leadership Academy was founded by Earl Martin Phalen, the inventor of the SummerAdvantage program.

Phalen, a one-time foster child and former Harvard Law School classmate of President Obama, came to Indiana in 2009 after being selected as a Mind Trust “education entrepreneur fellow.”

From that fellowship, Phalen invented Summer Advantage, a program that aims to help low income children advance, rather than backslide, during summer break. Building on the success of that program, he launched the Phalen Leadership Academy and the charter network now also operates IPS School 103 under a contract with the district.

The school is located on the North side of downtown and serves 325 students in grades K to 4. About 77 percent of students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

The school is 91 percent black, 4 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic. About 5 percent of students were in special education and less than 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Other charter schools exceeding the IPS district average:

Southeast Neighborhood School of Excellence. SENSE fell out of the top 10, but the school’s 31 percent passing rate was higher than the IPS average. It was the only other Indianapolis charter school with a passing rate above the district’s rate. It’s passing rate fell by 24 percentage points from the prior year.

Story booth

VIDEO: How a Detroit special education advocate tries to help parents

PHOTO: Tairia Bridges
Dorothea Nicholson is a education advocate for children with special needs and their parents

When Dorothea Nicholson first learned her oldest daughter had special needs, she recalls crying all the time.

Her daughter, now 17, was almost 5 years old then, and had so many health issues – including being unable to hear, walk, talk, or hold food down – doctors told Nicholson there was nothing they could do, and that she should place her daughter in center-based treatment. Nicholson remembers going to 15 doctors appointments in one week and feeling alone.

“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do,” the Detroiter said. “I was left in the dark, lost.”

Five years later, Nicholson gave birth to another daughter. She had attention deficit disorder with impulsivity, mood disorder, asthma and allergies to “almost everything.”

But by then, Nicholson said she had a better idea of what steps to take to advocate for her after attending support groups and getting other help.

Now, the educational advocate has taken up a mantle of helping other parents of children with special needs. She understands these parents deal with a variety of issues in their personal lives while trying to figure out what to do to support their children.

Nicholson recently shared the story of how she helps parents of children with special needs at a recent special education listening session sponsored by Chalkbeat Detroit and the nonprofit Detroit Parent Network. Do you know someone who has a story to share? Reach out to us.

talking shop

Richard Carranza’s back-to-school checklist: less paperwork, clearer lines of responsibility, and a hard look at gifted programs

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
When students head back to class in September, it will mark the chancellor's first full school year.

Richard Carranza jokes that his colleagues must be tired of hearing him ask the same questions.

Four months into his role as New York City’s schools chief, Carranza has had a chance to get under the hood of the country’s largest school system. And for each policy the city pursues, Carranza wants to know: “What’s our return on investment? How do we know? How do we prove it?”

His attention to hard numbers is just one of the ways that Carranza’s tenure promises to be different from that of his predecessor, who favored stories over statistics. He has charted his own course in other ways, by tackling school segregation head-on, and shaking up the leadership structure for how schools are supported. (Still, he’s not going at it totally alone: Carranza said he grabs coffee periodically with former chancellor Carmen Fariña, whom he called a “great lady.”)

Carranza’s new approach will get tested this September when more than a million students head back to school — ushering in his first full school year as chancellor.

In an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat, Carranza made it clear that he enters the year with more big questions on his mind, like whether New York City’s approach to gifted admissions is fair. He’s also finding some things he likes about the current system — toning down some of his early criticism of the city’s controversial Renewal school turnaround program. And he’s already thinking about what he wants his legacy to be in New York City.

Here are highlights from our Friday interview, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

How have you been spending your summer? What have been your priorities and who have you been meeting with?

This summer has been super busy. I spent a lot of time, obviously, with the reorganization. (Carranza pared down his executive staff and added new roles, including executive superintendents and a Chief Academic Officer. Read more here.) I’ve been interviewing and hiring people. We’ve been also doing some reconfiguration with how the Department of Education is organized so that we’re better able to function on delivering what we’ve promised. I’ve been spending a lot of time still — it’s a big city — meeting people.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development with principals and teachers and central office people. One of the things I really try to do is not just drive by, ‘Hey everybody. It’s nice being here.’ And then I’m out. I try to actually spend time, and preferably at least half a day — which is really hard to do, and sometimes I can only spend an hour or two. I really want to get a flavor: What is it that we’re doing in terms of professional development?

What I’ve also been doing is, as I learn more and more and more about the DOE and what the initiatives have been over the last four of five years, trying to understand where we are with them. I think people are kind of sick of me around Tweed, because I keep asking, ‘So what’s the return on investment? How do we know? How can we prove it?’

One of the things that I’ve heard a lot of comment about from folks in the department and school-based folks has been the weight of bureaucracy on the day-to-day work. By that I mean the paperwork that people have to do or the processes to get stuff done that may not make sense. One of the directives I’ve given to the folks is ‘weeding the garden.’ We need to weed the garden of stuff that’s just a time suck or it’s not helpful to the work that we do.

What specifically do you think should happen at schools that are low performing? When you took the job, you meet with people around the city and produced a report where you talked about schools needing more support. But what should happen after schools have received support and improvement isn’t clear?

I believe that when you look at improving schools or empowering schools to improve, one of the things that you can’t do is just looking at that on a short-term basis. By that I mean: You can name the schools, you can put them in a group of schools, you can invest resources, and then once they get better, you take away the resources. Well guess what? They’re going to go right back.

A much better approach is to really look at the conditions. Do a root cause analysis. What are the challenges that schools face — and not just the school, but the community? You also have to do a systems scan, and by that I mean: Are there policies, are there decisions that are made that are not inside their control? For example, have we changed a boundary line? Have we implemented a screen somewhere? Have we implemented a specialized program somewhere that impacts, negatively, this school that we’re looking at? Then the third thing you have to do is then align resources based on that needs assessment — not for a certain amount of time but as a way of doing business.

We’re in the process of doing that analysis right now with all of our schools. Obviously, schools that had previously been named as Renewal schools and even the schools that have moved into a Rise status, they’re part of that list. But there are other schools as well.

But after you’ve done those levels of analysis and you feel like schools have been given adequate time, is there an end point? Do you believe in school closures at all, after all those things have been tried?

I think we have to be able to serve students. I don’t talk about school closures because when you start talking about, ‘The end is going to be the ax,’ then that’s never been very motivating for anybody. What I talk about is what we’re going to do in advance, and the process. But I guarantee you in every school I’ve ever worked with, when you’re really clear about that needs assessment, you’re really clear about the current condition, you’re really clear about where you want to get, the process itself will make it very clear: If we’re not able to do this, then we have to do something different for the students we serve.

But I really don’t talk about school closures because that’s really not a goal.

But even if it’s not a goal, is it a policy tool that could be used?

Let me be clear: I’m not scared of closing a school if it’s not serving the needs of the student. My experience, nine times out of 10, has been that we haven’t done all we can do, to actually give schools that are struggling to improve, the right conditions, the right resources, and the right support to actually improve.

When we first sat down, one of your initial critiques of the Renewal program was that there hadn’t been a clear ‘theory of action’ and that ‘makes it difficult’ to talk about what outcomes to expect. You said you were working on this ‘very, very quickly.’ So what is theory of action now, and what are the outcomes we should be looking for?

When we met, I hadn’t yet had a deep dive with the person who had taken over Renewal, Cheryl Watson Harris. WI was extremely impressed by her strategic way of looking at the work. It coincided almost perfectly with the way I look at the work. You have to have great leadership. You have to empower. And you have to train teachers for the students you have. You have to have a strong curriculum. You have to have systems and structures in schools that replicate good practices. You have to have a social-emotional community schools approach, and you have to empower communities and parents. That’s why she’s now the senior deputy chancellor, in charge of all of the supervision of all of our schools.

So my theory of action is: If we take the time to do a root cause analysis, and understand all of the facets involved with a challenging school, if we align resources to meet those root cause issues, if you have the right people in place and if you are persistent over time, you will be able to turn around a school and make it a good academic learning environment.

Renewal was supposed to be a three-year program that’s now going into year four. What’s the plan after this year? Are there any changes in the works?

We’ve learned lessons from the Renewal implementation over the first three years. As you know, we’re about to announce nine executive superintendents, which will have a very strong academic leadership role in the geographically based field service centers in the city. Those executive superintendents will take on much more responsibility for those previously called Renewal schools And those nine executive superintendents will be networked, working as a group, around supporting the schools that are in their areas.

You had three and sometimes three or more people giving direction to Renewal schools. It was a little chaotic.

Now you’re going to have a very clear line of accountability. You’re going to have an executive superintendent working with the superintendent, supported horizontally by our school improvement strategies and teams. We’re going to have a much more coordinated way of not only doing the needs assessment that I talked about, but also making sure that we’re providing the appropriate supports and then holding ourselves accountable for what we say we’re going to do.

When you say ‘previously labeled Renewal schools,’ do you imagine these schools will shed that label, and under this new structure, they will just be schools that get targeted support through that? Or is that a decision that’s not been made yet?

I don’t refer to them as Renewal schools, only because — not that that program has gone away, not that that focus has gone away — I just look at the work of improving schools in a little bit of a different lens. I call them ‘schools of opportunity,’ because this is our opportunity to do some very specific, strategic work within schools.

What problems are the reorganization solving?

Part of my analysis, which was then confirmed when I did my listen and learn tour, was that it was confusing where accountability lied in the organization. So as principals worked to meet the needs of their schools, they often found it confusing as to who they went to, to get support.

In addition, it was very difficult for us to actually coordinate with agencies in the city or community-based organizations wanting to do work on a number of different issues like homelessness or foster care kids, because components of what we did to support those kinds of students were in various departments across the DOE. It was very hard to build a strategic way of doing the work. What the organizational shift did was solve for a lot of those issues. Like strands of work are now in like structures, led by someone who has a very clear line of accountability.

In the case of our academic program, what I found was that you had some really hard working people in Teaching and Learning doing a lot of great work around curriculum, coaching, leadership development, you name it. I had great, hard-working people working on issues relating to English Language Learners. Great, hard-working people in special education. But rarely did they work across each other’s silo to actually have an integrated way of doing the work. That’s why I created the Chief Academic Officer position. The Chief Academic Officer will be responsible for those three strands of district work.

I think a cabinet of 22 people, which is what I inherited — great people — it’s unwieldy. So the cabinet is shrunk to nine. My cabinet touch every aspect of everything that happens in the district. It’s my way of being able to not only collaborate but to give direction, hold accountable, and also be clear about implementation of initiatives that we have in the district.

Final thing I’m going to say: One of the biggest complaints that I heard from parents was, who do I go to? I have a problem in my school — who do I go to? And that’s why they ended up emailing me. So with the executive superintendents, there’s an executive superintendent for Staten Island who has the authority to make decisions for what happens on Staten Island, who has the responsibility for addressing and working with parents and community members on Staten Island, who is going to be intimately knowledgeable about what happens on Staten Island. In other words, it’s bringing the decision-making and accountability closer to the ground.

Heading in a different direction: What did you make of your visit to a Success Academy school? Eva Moskowitz, who runs that network, said that you seemed more friendly to charter schools. Is that an intentional shift?

I like to think I’m a collaborative guy. I think I’ve met pretty much all of the charter school leaders in New York City by now. My approach is always to talk about the work from the perspective of, “What’s good for kids and what’s the educational value in us working together?” I don’t go into those meetings assuming that I’m going to have an adverse reaction or an adverse relationship with anybody in the meeting. I never do that any way.

I’ve also made the effort to actually go into charters — Success Academy being one of them.

I will continue to look to find places where we can actually do collaborative work together if it’s going to help kids in New York City.

We want to talk about specialized high schools. You and the mayor have proposed a plan to admit more black and Hispanic students at the schools by eliminating the test that serves as the sole admissions factor. But the rest of the school system is also segregated, and many of our readers have asked whether you plan on taking an active role in desegregation efforts beyond specialized high schools.

Let’s go over the record. Within months of getting here, the mayor and I have now proposed a plan. Is it a perfect plan? Some people say yes, some people say no. But we’ve proposed a plan that’s never been proposed before around, ‘How are we going to create more opportunities for students in specialized schools?’

I think it’s also important to understand that when you talk about diversifying schools, you obviously are talking about not only diversifying the students who go to the schools, but then from the school improvement perspective, being really clear about what are the components that we want to make sure are working well in every school. As we work to improve schools that have historically not done well, you’re going to see more and more opportunity for students. But you can’t do that with just talking about integration. You also have to talk about curriculum. You have to talk about instruction. You have to talk about leadership. You have to talk about resource allocation.

And then you have to talk about systems and structures that advantage some schools and disadvantage other schools. That’s where the hard rub is because people will always equate that to a zero-sum game. I don’t think that anyone can deny that there are structures in our system that advantage some schools and disadvantage other schools, I’m asking the question: Is that ok? I think it’s a worthy conversation to have.

What personal role did you play in pushing for admissions changes at the specialized high schools?

The mayor and I, when we spoke about my coming to New York City, knew what he was getting. He knew how I grew up, where I grew up, what my educational pathway way was, what my leadership pathway has been.

So all I can say is that, in all of the conversations I’ve had with the mayor prior to my arrival and since my arrival, I can tell you the mayor is passionate about making sure that our schools are just as diverse as our city. He’s passionate about making sure that students, in the communities where they live, have great options for going to school. He has never bridled me and he has never told me not to talk about this, and he’s never told me what to talk about.

But he and I have had, like two grown men, lots of great conversations about this.

Was it already on the table when you came in, or was it something that developed after you got here?

I did my homework when I was going to come to New York City. So I had a working knowledge of what the big issues were, and given my background, we talked about it.

One of the things that I appreciate is, what the mayor hired was an educator to be the chancellor and he lets me do my job.

The proposal has been met with backlash, particularly from parents in the Asian community. Do you wish you would have done anything differently in the roll-out to announce the admissions changes?

There always is an opportunity for more input and buy in. But I think subsequent to the roll-out, where some aspects of the community have balkanized and sort of taken a stance, that wouldn’t have been any different had we done more robust engagement process up front. Since that roll-out, though — and nobody really writes about it, and that’s good — but I’ve been meeting with folks. I’ve been starting to have some really substantive conversations.

We have a very similar model for admitting students to gifted, and a similarly segregated population. Is that acceptable, and what do you think education should look like? Should we have it at all?

We probably should be really clear about what we mean about truly gifted. The student that is doing algebra in the third grade, that’s a gifted kid. But are we really talking about that when we talk about gifted and talented programs? I don’t know. I think sometimes it’s ironic where folks will say, ‘oh, if you’re going to identify a student for gifted and talented it shouldn’t be just one test.’ Kids are kids. It should also be teacher observation. It should be all these other multiple measures, which I think is a good idea. But then it comes to specialized high school admissions and we all say, ‘Oh, no. No, no. It’s just one test.’

But that’s largely not how it works in gifted right now. Largely, it’s just one test.

And I think that’s not a good idea. here is no body of knowledge that I know of that has pointed to the fact that you can give a test to a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old and determine if they’re gifted. Those tests — and it’s pretty clear — are more a measure of the privilege of a child’s home than true giftedness. We should really have those conversations — including, ‘What is gifted and talented?’ If you’re going to assess for gifted and talented, how do you do that? When do you do that? And what makes sense?

When you look at the disparities in representation across this system, you have to ask the question, do we have the right way of assessing and making decisions about students?

The mayor wants to make sure every second grader is reading on grade level and has placed literacy coaches in high needs schools to help reach that goal. Some recent research shows the program hasn’t had a positive effect, but the city is adding more coaches. What will be different this year?

When it comes to universal literacy, keep in mind that it’s pretty nascent in its implementation. We’ve changed the assessments we’re going to be using because I wasn’t satisfied in the assessments we were going to be using. It didn’t give us an ability really to compare across the system or even to other systems. I can tell you that the professional development that our coaches are going to be providing to teachers and the coaching is going to be much tighter and much more aligned. For example, if you’re doing a balanced literacy approach, and kids come around a kidney table with a teacher, there are certain protocols you should follow and certain information you should be gathering that helps you then makes the decision about what the next instructional practice is. As I looked at some of the evidence, it wasn’t always clear to me that we were really clear about what that looked like.

When you’re done here, in maybe three years, how are you going to measure your own success? What do you hope to have accomplished, especially within the specific issue of segregation?

My goal is that I’m not going to be done here for another 20 years — that the results are going to be so good in three-and-a-half years that whoever is the new mayor is going to say, ‘Why are we going to change this?’ That’s my goal. But I will tell you that whenever we’re done here, I’m going to be able to look back in three very general areas where I would like to have liked to have seen us really move the needle.

First and foremost is around curriculum and instruction — that we will have a curriculum that is tight. It’s going to be inclusive of all students — all ethnicities, all gender identification types, LGBTQ, everybody is seen in their curriculum. That we’re going to have great implementation, that we’re going to have great professional development for teachers that’s embedded. And we’re also going to have great supports around teaching in a very restorative way so that we have good systems and structures around that.

The second one is going to be around equity, that we will have moved the equity agenda in New York City so that we’re actually leading the nation. It gives me chills in a bad way every time I hear somebody reference the fact that we’re the most segregated school system in America. So I would hope to say that in the equity front, that we’ve actually dealt with our issues.

And then the third area I think is really, really important as I look back is that I want to make sure that we’ve done the work to empower parents and communities where they are. I’m not convinced, despite our best efforts, that we’ve actually met communities where they are. And we’ve not done that in people’s native languages.

Is there anything we didn’t ask you about that you want us to know?

I was at a meeting this morning and then when I got done with the meeting I walked into a coffee shop. I bought a cup of coffee and as I was standing there getting ready to pay, a gentleman comes out from the back with his apron on. He comes over and shakes my hand, and he says, ‘Thank you. My kids are so proud. I tell them, look. He didn’t speak English. Look what he’s doing.’

It’s occurred to me that I get stopped on the street a lot by taxi drivers who’ll lean out of the window and say, ‘Keep doing it!’ Construction workers, people who work in restaurants. And it feels good to me because I think maybe what I’m talking about, in the way that I’m talking about it, is not high-falutin. It’s in the people’s language. And I think that’s a good thing.