IPS reverses course on School 43 plan that ‘blindsided’ community leaders

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 43 will have community meetings to plan for the future.

A week after revealing a plan to convert School 43 to a magnet program with a focus on physical activity, Indianapolis Public Schools leaders are reversing course. They plan to seek more public input before making a decision.

At a meeting with community leaders last night, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee agreed to hold forums for the public and parents to discuss the future of the school. The school could become a magnet or innovation school or remain a traditional neighborhood school.

The move comes on the heels of a school board meeting Aug. 16 that turned heated when the administration revealed plans to convert School 43 to the district’s second SUPER school, a popular magnet program currently in School 19. The plans had not been discussed with community leaders who have strongly supported the school.

“We felt so blindsided,” said Brenda Vance Paschal, a neighborhood association member who has been heavily involved with the school. “If you were thinking about this, why didn’t you tell us?”

School 43, which is in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood on the north side of downtown, has grappled with rock-bottom test scores, discipline problems and unstable leadership in recent years. In February, the district sent a top leader to run the school after the principal resigned without warning. A new principal who grew up in the neighborhood took the helm this year, and he has won support from community leaders.

Throughout the turmoil, the school has been buoyed by strong support from dozens of volunteer tutors, the nearby community center and Great Places 2020, a community group devoted to revitalizing the neighborhood. Leaders have been discussing the future of the school and planning community meetings about the school for the last several months.

At the Aug. 16 board meeting, school board member Kelly Bentley said the district was making a “huge mistake” by not getting input from community leaders.

“The district generally doesn’t do a good job of really reaching out and having these conversations with the community,” she said. “They are the owners of the schools. We ought to give them input on some of this stuff.”

District officials released the proposal to turn School 43 into a magnet school as part of their plan for moving middle school students across IPS from combined middle-high schools to dedicated middle schools and elementary schools serving students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The plan called for turning School 43 into a SUPER school and adding seventh and eighth grade students.

The updated proposal from the administration does not include the conversion to a magnet program, but the school will still add the middle grades. The board is expected to vote on the plan Thursday.

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.