School closings

Howe and Manual will stay open three more years under the management of CSUSA

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

Charter Schools USA will maintain control of Howe and Manual High Schools for three more years — a move that means the schools will be spared from imminent closure.

The chronically failing schools were part of Indianapolis Public Schools until they were taken over by the state in 2012. The Indiana State Board of Education hired CSUSA, a for-profit charter manager out of Florida, to turn around the schools. In the years since, they have made middling progress.

The board voted 9-2 to extend the contract with CSUSA to 2019-2020, two years later than it was expected to end. The contract at another takeover school, Emma Donnan Middle School, was already extended until 2020 as part of a plan that created an innovation elementary school on the campus in partnership with IPS.

Board members Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager voted against the contract extension. But some other board members staunchly supported giving CSUSA more time to turn around the schools.

“I think the results are remarkable,” said board member David Freitas. “Why wouldn’t we support remarkable results?”

That was a sentiment echoed by Jon Hage, the CEO of CSUSA, who said “the results have been pretty good over the last five years.”

But the data is not entirely sunny. Last year, students showed improvement on early assessment data the manager shared with the board. Yet, all of the Indianapolis takeover schools managed by CSUSA are getting Fs on the state accountability system. The new elementary school that CSUSA began in partnership with IPS is rated D, but it is also one of the worst performing schools in the district, according to an IPS analysis.

Hage said CSUSA is revamping its approach. That includes establishing an Indiana team to manage the schools and a nonprofit to oversee them. CSUSA is also working with Peggy Hinckley, a former superintendent who is also leading the takeover of Gary schools.

“In hindsight, there’s probably better ways to do turnaround in the future,” Hage said, “but doing nothing would’ve been a failure too.”

State superintendent Jennifer McCormick voted for the contract extension, but she was tepid in her assessment of CSUSA’s progress.

“Are they exactly where we want them to be? No. … They have a long way to go, but at least they are showing an upward movement,” she said. “Their trend data shows improvements.”

The decision to extend the contract for CSUSA means the schools are likely to remain open for at least three years. That contrasts with a plan released by the IPS administration, which recommends closing Howe and Manual if they are returned to the district’s control.

There were no IPS representatives at the meeting of the state board Wednesday, and some board members argued they should delay the vote until hearing directly from the administration. But ultimately, they did not wait for IPS input.

The IPS proposal to close Howe and Manual is part of a broad plan to reconfigure high schools across the district, which the IPS board is expected to vote on in September. Because some of the schools involved are in state intervention, the district will need support from the state board.

The school closing plan is designed to reduce costs in the cash-strapped district, where high schools are less than half full.

That’s a problem also facing the schools managed by CSUSA, which are vastly underutilized, said Hage. But he argued the decision on the future of the schools should not be made yet.

Putting off the decision is costly, however. The schools receive about $1,500-$3,300 per student extra from the state, said McCormick.

“When you look at those additional dollars, you are hoping you are getting your bang for your buck,” she said. “Anytime you are putting millions of dollars behind something, you obviously have your eyes on it.”

High school years

‘Fall was a big buildup of school spirit’: A Northwest alumnus remembers pep rallies, school plays, and some tension along the way, too.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Bill Franklin
Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980, as a high-schooler (left) and as an adult (right).

In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.

Want to share your own memories from one of these schools? Fill out this form.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)

Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980

Member, Class of 1980 reunion committee

Question: Can you tell us something about your memories from high school?
Answer: Northwest High School was a big part of my growing up. The neighborhood I lived in was right next door to the school, so it was within walking distance. And I have two older brothers who went to Northwest before me. So going to the football games on Friday nights was always a big thrilling event for me, going over to watch band practices and things like that. It was just a very good place to grow up, a very good school to go to at the time.

Q. What was the school like back then?
A. I was one of these weirdo kids who was always excited when the school year started, as opposed to ‘Oh no, summer’s over!’ Because it was a chance to go back to see the friends that you typically didn’t see over the summer, there was always new clothes to wear, and always the excitement of finding out what your classes were going to be like.

The fall was just a big buildup of school spirit because of the football games, and they would have pep rallies, and there was always the part of the pep rally where they would have the freshmen class make as much noise as they could, and then the sophomore class, and so on, and then it was judged who had the most spirit, which class it was. It was just always a good time.

Having said that, our school ratio honestly back then was probably 60 percent black and 40 percent white, so there were a couple years where there was a lot of tension early in the school year between black and white students. Sometimes it would be on the news. I do remember coming home from school one time and my mom asked me if anything had happened at the school and I said, ‘Not that I’m aware of.’ She said, ‘Well, the neighbor heard on the news that they were having problems at Northwest, some students threw rocks at a bus that was busing in black students from Indianapolis.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ (Franklin is white.)

That always seemed to be that way, just briefly at the beginning of the school year. I don’t know why, I never experienced anything myself. What was interesting was, like the cafeteria, it was kind of an unspoken or unwritten thing that the majority of the white students would sit on one side of the cafeteria and the majority of the black students would sit on the other. I thought that was kind of interesting, but again, I didn’t notice any trouble with that.

Q. Was this tension ever acknowledged by the school?
A. I just don’t think it was acknowledged. Maybe the administration just (thought) you know, as long as there’s nothing really going on with that, we’ll leave it alone. They didn’t want to get too involved in it. And like I said, it always worked itself out. Going through the hallways, between classes, I never saw anything, I never felt threatened. It was actually a good school to go to, I enjoyed it.

Q. What groups or clubs were you involved in?
A. The school curriculum was, you had to have at least one year of physical education, and so I did my one year and got out. I’m just not a sports-minded individual. Both of my brothers were, they played football all through high school, and I remember my dad telling me that when I got to high school, I’d be involved in some sort of sport activity. And I didn’t want to be. I got really involved in the arts – the art department, choir, theater, show choir. My parents noticed that I really enjoyed it, and did very well with it, and was very happy.

I remember absolutely every show I was in. We always did a fall play and a spring musical. I remember every play and musical I was in and whatever character I played. And Northwest was a fantastic school to do that in, because they have one of the largest auditoriums for a public school. So it was fun performing there, it was just great. The camaraderie in the theater department and the music department was really good.

In my junior year of high school, we did the fall play ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ and I was cast as the lead character, Tom. That was my biggest thing, being in that play as the lead. My junior year, we did the musical ‘Once Upon A Mattress,’ and I played the minstrel. My character was the very first character out on stage, and did a big solo number. We ended up taking that musical to state competition and we got number one musical in the state of Indiana.

Q. What did you think when you heard about the plan to convert Northwest into a middle school?
A. Well, I do know that the people on the (Class of 1980) reunion committee, when we first heard about Northwest closing, everyone was kind of in shock and sad to hear that, because it really was a good school back in our day. But we all knew that their enrollment had declined, and we had heard some of the wings weren’t even being used because they didn’t have the students they used to.

I live in Hendricks County. Everybody I know (from Northwest), nobody lives there, they don’t even have kids or grandkids who go there. So I don’t think a whole lot of people in my group are really affected by it, other than, it’s just sad to hear.

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.