Who Is In Charge

After unsuccessful first attempt, private voucher schools use new Indiana law to win reprieve from A-F consequences

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The Indiana State Board of Education approved the voucher waiver requests at its June meeting.

Four private schools with repeated years of D and F grades from the state will get to accept new voucher students next fall.

The Indiana State Board of Education today approved Central Christian Academy, Turning Point School, Lutheran South Unity School and Trinity Lutheran School’s requests for waivers after a failed vote last month would have denied them.

The requests take advantage of a new Indiana law passed in April that allows the state board to consider such waivers for private schools that can still show their students have improved academically.

Today, six board members voted in favor of the waivers. Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager were still opposed. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who also voted no last month, was out sick.

Before lawmakers passed House Bill 1384 earlier this year, schools with three consecutive years of Ds or Fs would have been barred from accepting new voucher students until their grades were a “C” or better for two years. In Trinity Lutheran’s case, where a school has three consecutive Fs, they need three years of better grades. The four schools have had just one year so far, and some of that change could be due, in part, to the fact that the state changed its A-F grading system in 2016 to reward test score improvement as well as performance.

The Indiana State Teachers Association spoke out against the waivers, arguing they undermine the state’s accountability system and put some schools above others.

“We feel that this is not good policy, to give schools a pass,” said John O’Neal, an ISTA lobbyist. “It seems like we have a separate accountability system for voucher schools as for (public) schools.”

Like last month, board members Hendry and Yager said today that one year of better grades wasn’t enough to ensure the schools could remain on track.

“I believe very strongly in choice,” Hendry said. “However, I feel there is a yin and yang between choice and accountability, and in this matter, I fall very slightly in favor of accountability.”

But board member Vince Bertram was adamant that the schools should get the waivers because parents had specifically chosen them, saying that’s the “most compelling issue” and a signal of the schools’ quality.

The state should take “any opportunity we have to hold schools accountable, but not restrict choice,” he said.

School leaders, students and parents spoke passionately about their schools and how using vouchers for private school tuition changed their lives.

“We do not turn away students with learning differences or ones who can’t afford us or ones who don’t share our religious tradition,” said David Sexauer, head of schools at Central Christian in Indianapolis. “Granting us this waiver will better enable us to serve families.”

The state board also voted to:

  • Approve two transition-to-teaching options for people who want to become teachers but not go through traditional college programs. Teachers of Tomorrow and the American College of Education Teacher Preparation both made proposals to the board about their online teacher certification programs, which would end with participants earning an Indiana teaching license.
  • Allow three private religious schools to begin the process to become accredited. Because of a new law passed this year, those schools could accept vouchers now that they’ve started the process, rather than after they finish it.

The state board next meets July 12 in Indianapolis.

 

 

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Chalkbeat found that six applicants live outside of the district. Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.