learning to work

A sweeping plan to boost Indy’s economy will push high schools to prepare students for open jobs

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The IPS administration is proposing adding more career training programs to high schools.

Former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth today announced a new $7 million effort aimed at strengthening the connection among K-12 schools, colleges, training programs and local employers.

The effort, called Ascend Indiana, will include partnerships with existing and new career and technical education programs to ensure that students learn the skills that will qualify them for jobs that companies are currently struggling to fill.

Indianapolis employers have jobs available, but some companies have great difficulty filling open positions. There are enough job seekers to fill those jobs, but most do not have the right qualifications. So jobs go unfilled and job seekers remain unemployed.

The workforce skills gap is one of the biggest problems facing the city, Kloth told a packed room of business, community, and education leaders at the Skyline Club atop the OneAmerica Tower. Those leaders included Mayor Joe Hogsett, former Mayor Greg Ballard, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, and others whom Kloth hopes will pitch in to solve it.

“A lot of people think unemployment is driven by not enough jobs being created,” Kloth said. “But in the U.S. and central Indiana a lot of unemployment is driven by not having enough education or content expertise to obtain the jobs that are open.”

The Ascend initiative includes four strategies to get more kids to graduate high school, complete college or training programs, and go into jobs in Indiana. The plan is to:

  • Study employer needs to determine what skills will lead to good jobs;
  • Identify workers who could move to better jobs and fill employer needs and offer them additional training;
  • Build new talent pipelines for industries that have jobs but not enough qualified applicants; and
  • Shift public policy to make the first three strategies work more easily.

Kloth said he envisions Ascend Indiana strengthening programs at local schools, connecting students directly with job opportunities, and providing employers with a steady flow of qualified candidates as they grow and create more jobs. The intended result: a stronger economy.

“This is a very attractive place for companies to expand and grow if they can access the talent they need to be successful,” Kloth said.

Ascend is a project of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, whose board of directors includes more than a dozen top executives of companies and organizations in Indianapolis. The effort is funded by seven local foundations, but the bulk of the funding came from a $5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. (Lilly Endowment also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.) Some funding also came from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

By 2020, Kloth said, labor market research estimates nearly two-thirds of jobs will require study beyond a high school diploma. But right now only about 42 percent of adults have enough education, and the right training, to access those jobs. That translates to a gap of about 215,000 adults who could be employed in good jobs but fall short of the qualifications they need to land them.

Joyce Irwin, president and CEO of Community Health Network Foundation, gave the example of nursing as a changing field that needs its talent pipeline to evolve.

With the large Baby Boomer generation aging, the demand for health care services is growing at the same time when there is a shift toward more services delivered outside the hospital. That requires more nurses who can work more independently or as a part of integrated teams with other professionals.

So Community and other healthcare networks, she said, want to hire more nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Through Ascend Indiana, Community is crafting a program that will help its nurses work toward four-year degrees in partnership with universities, with some instruction delivered at work.

But in the long term, Irwin said she would like to see that pipeline extend back to K-12 schools, so that younger students have information about the skills they will need to complete a four-year nursing degree.

“At the beginning of the pipeline we can help them understand where nursing is going,” she said. “If you catch people younger you can get them to go toward the higher level skills.”

grant money

Denver charter Compass Academy wins $2.5 million to “reimagine high school”

PHOTO: Courtesy Compass Academy

A Denver charter middle school devoted to bilingualism and founded with help from City Year, an AmeriCorps program that deploys young adults to mentor and tutor at-risk students, has won a $2.5 million grant to help design and launch an innovative high school model.

The money is from the XQ Institute’s Super School Project, an initiative backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple’s Steve Jobs. XQ aims to “reimagine high school” by funding novel ideas. Last year, it gave $10 million each to 10 schools across the country.

Compass Academy in southwest Denver applied for one of those big grants. It didn’t win, but XQ gave the school a second look as part of an effort to bring more diversity in geography and school type to its “super schools,” said Monica Martinez, senior school support strategist for the California-based XQ. Compass will receive $2.5 million over the next five years.

“Their idea stood out to us,” Martinez said.

That idea is to pair personalized, community-based learning — dance classes at local studios, science classes at local hospitals — with the type of social and emotional support City Year corps members provide, such as checking in with kids who were absent the day before.

“There’s joy and love in this building,” said executive director Marcia Fulton. Compass students, she said, “feel that somebody understands, and they feel worth.”

Compass also aims to have every student graduate with a seal of biliteracy, a new credential that proves to colleges and employers they can communicate in at least two languages. That goal, Fulton said, was born of a desire expressed by families in the community.

The school opened in 2015 with just sixth grade. When classes begin again next week, Compass will be a full middle school with more than 300 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Last year, 98 percent of students were students of color, 96 percent were eligible for subsidized lunch and 64 percent were English language learners.

Academically, Compass has struggled. Its first year, 14 percent of sixth-graders met or exceeded expectations on state math tests and just 8 percent met that bar in English. The school’s academic growth scores, which measure how much students learned in a year compared to their academic peers, also lagged behind school district averages.

XQ didn’t take the school’s test scores into account, Martinez said. The XQ grants, she said, “are based on a vision and an idea, and Compass was the same way.”

Fulton said the school “did not land where we wanted to land” on the state tests. But she said Compass has made shifts in its scheduling, staffing and approach that she hopes will drive higher academic achievement going forward. The school is currently rated “red,” the lowest category in Denver Public Schools’ color-coded school rating system.

“When you’re lifting up so many powerful components of design, it takes time,” Fulton said. “The funding is about an acknowledgement of the path we’re on. … We are being supported to say, ‘Keep doing what we know is important for all learners in the community.’”

Compass’s charter is for sixth through 12th grade. But Compass does not yet have a building for its high school. The Denver school board voted in 2015 to place Compass’s middle school in underutilized space on the Lincoln High School campus, a controversial decision that drew intense pushback from some Lincoln students, parents and teachers.

Compass has not asked DPS for space for its high school. In fact, Fulton said, the Compass board of directors has not yet decided when the high school will open. She said the board is “committed to identifying and investing in a private facility.”

Earlier this week, 13-year-old student Davonte Ford was at Compass, helping teachers set up their classrooms before the start of school. The rising eighth-grader came to Compass last year from a school where he said he “used to get in a lot of physical altercations.”

“I used to get frustrated sometimes,” he said. “If I got frustrated, I had no one to talk to.”

But at Compass, Ford said, it’s different.

“At this school,” he said, “I have someone to help me.”

mental health matters

Mental health services in Manhattan schools are ‘falling short,’ says report from borough president

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty / © 2013

Mental health services in Manhattan schools provide only a “patchwork” of care that is “falling short” of what students and educators need, according to a report released Wednesday by Borough President Gale Brewer.

Almost 237,000 New York City children under the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental health condition, according to Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York. In schools, mental health services are provided to students in a range of ways, including via school social workers, on-site clinics and mental health consultants.

But too often, the report notes, these services are inadequate.

“Our school mental health system, if you can call it that, is a quilt of mismatched pieces slapped together to do more with less,” Brewer said in an emailed statement.

More than 100 of the borough’s 307 public schools, the report notes, have no mental health services other than consultants provided through ThriveNYC, an initiative started by New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray. The consultants are licensed social workers who are supposed help schools assess their mental health needs and connect them with community organizations that can meet those needs.

Yet many counselors and assistant principals interviewed for the report didn’t even know their schools had been assigned a mental health consultant through the program. Others said the training and resources the consultants provided for staff were “a waste of time.”

The city has paid for 100 consultants over the last two years, but these mental health professionals may be stretched too thin, the report notes. Each is assigned to up to 10 campuses and can serve as many as 8,000 students.

“Staff in multiple schools expressed that the mental health consultant’s impact was minimal and that the resources they provided could have easily been found online,” the report notes.

Social workers also face heavy loads. In Manhattan, there is one social worker for every 800 students, the report calculates. Citywide, the ratio is one for every 900 students. But social workers are mostly funded through money set aside for students with special needs and often can’t adequately serve the general school population. In some needy neighborhoods, the education department provides additional counselors through its Single Shepherd initiative.

School-based health clinics, meanwhile, are facing budget cuts due to changes in how they are funded.

In an emailed statement, the education department disputed some of the study’s findings. Spokesman Michael Aciman wrote that evaluations of school sites show that not every campus needs a dedicated mental health clinic, and the current system allows targeted supports where and when they’re necessary.

“Under this administration, we have made unprecedented investments in mental health resources and, for the first time, made mental health supports and services available to every city school,” Aciman wrote. “We know kids can’t learn if they are facing an unaddressed mental health challenge.”

The borough president’s report calls on the city to change the way social workers are funded, waive certain permit fees for school-based health clinics and study the effectiveness of ThriveNYC in schools. At the state level, the report recommends changes in the way clinics are funded and how they bill for services.