space debates

City scraps divisive co-location plan for Boys and Girls, as focus shifts to leadership change

PHOTO: Annie Ma
Boys and Girls High School.

The city is withdrawing a divisive proposal to move a high-performing Brooklyn school into the building of its long-struggling neighbor, officials said Monday. But allies of the school indicated that another fight — over who should be the principal — is just beginning.

The plan would have moved Medgar Evers College Preparatory School, a selective school, into the building of Boys and Girls High School, long among the city’s worst-performing schools. It was first floated by Michael Wiltshire, who since 2014 has been principal of both schools in an unusual arrangement that even some former allies say has failed.

Supporters of Boys and Girls have in the past opposed plans that would limit the historic school’s use of its massive redbrick building in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. But it was parents from Medgar Evers who rejected the space-sharing proposal last month, angry that the city would not meet their demands.

Chief among the demands: that Medgar Evers students use a separate entrance at the Boys and Girls campus so they would not have to pass through metal detectors. That demand galled people at Boys and Girls and the other two schools in its building who felt that Medgar Evers was asking for special treatment.

The decision comes as Boys and Girls’ politically connected supporters are already discussing who will replace Wiltshire and what schools could share its Bedford-Stuyvesant building other than Medgar Evers.

Although Wiltshire has said he has not yet decided whether to step down as “master principal” of both schools, he has interviewed for a principalship in Long Island. He also told the Wall Street Journal last week that he was unsure whether he wanted to continue working for the education department after it was revealed that its investigators found he had failed to properly report an instance of student-on-student sexual harassment that occurred in December. Wiltshire said he had followed department protocol.

On Monday, several people at a meeting organized by the local education council said the school’s superintendent, Michael Alcoff, told them that the search for a new principal has already started. The community leaders, teachers union representatives, alumni, and others at the meeting said they want to make sure they are involved in choosing his replacement.

“It looks like a principal is going to be chosen, and I’m going to be pissed off if I’m not involved in that,” City Councilman Robert Cornegy said during the public meeting, where he promised to contact schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña about Boys and Girls’ future.

The city gave Wiltshire a large bonus and the title of “master principal” when he agreed to take over Boys and Girls in Oct. 2014. A few months later, he pitched the idea of combining that school with Medgar Evers, the selective school two miles away in Crown Heights that he has helmed for over a decade.

Wiltshire had long complained about Medgar Evers’ facilities: The building is so overcrowded that some of its 1,200 students must meet in outdoor trailers, while its track team must sprint down its hallways since the building lacks a gymnasium. Meanwhile, Boys and Girls’ sprawling building is only 25 percent occupied, according to the city.

“I see this as an opportunity to get the facilities that our kids deserve,” Wiltshire told Medgar Evers parents during a meeting last year about the plan. He added, “If we don’t move to that facility, someone else is going to take it.”

Eventually, the city made a formal proposal to move Medgar Evers into Boys and Girls’ building, though the schools would remain separate entities. Proponents of the move argued that it would also benefit Boys and Girls, since its students would be able to take honors classes at Medgar Evers and teachers at the two schools could collaborate.

But others felt that Wiltshire was mainly motivated by a desire to secure more space for Medgar Evers. In April, a Boys and Girls alumni group claiming to have 5,000 members sent a letter to Chancellor Fariña saying “the appearance of a conflict of interest” on Wiltshire’s part is of “grave concern.”

However, it was the resistance at Medgar Evers that appears to have convinced the city to drop the plan for now.

Last month, students and some parents held a rally against the move, and the school’s parent-faculty leadership team sent a notice to education department officials officially rejecting it. The team cited several reasons, including that Medgar Evers would only have access to some of the science labs in the shared building and that students would have to travel further to take early-college classes at Medgar Evers College.

The email also noted that Medgar Evers serves students in grades six to 12, while the Boys and Girls campus houses a “transfer school” for older students who struggled in previous settings. A “a significant number of them are older than 20 years old and some others are able to legally purchase, possess and use alcohol and tobacco,” it said.

Lorna Fairweather, a Medgar Evers parent and leadership team member, said in an interview last month that some parents were concerned about their children interacting with the older students.

“The parents do not want to have our sixth-graders commingling with 19 and 20-year-olds who are not in uniform,” she said, adding that they had a requested a separate entrance for Medgar Evers students.

Those concerns infuriated some people in the Boys and Girls campus, including the principal of the transfer school, according to people familiar with her thinking. Several people said they did not oppose the move, but they strongly rejected Medgar Evers’ demands.

“We welcome them, but we want it to be very clear that it will be equal,” NeQuan McLean, president of District 16 community education council, said at the meeting Monday morning before the decision to cancel the move was announced. “There will not be a separate entrance … We’re not going to stand for that kind of segregation.”

Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose shared the decision with leaders at the Boys and Girls campus schools Monday afternoon. In an email, an education department spokeswoman said the agency was withdrawing the proposal while “further discussion and community engagement is underway.”

Even before the announcement, the Boys and Girls backers discussed other schools that could potentially move into its building if the Medgar Evers move fizzled. One possibility is Bedford Academy High School, a selective public school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, they said at the Monday morning meeting.

Several people also said the city’s experiment letting Wiltshire run two schools simultaneously had failed, and that his replacement should be dedicated solely to Boys and Girls.

“Turning a school around requires time, effort, energy, and commitment that one person cannot give to two schools,” said Sam Penceal, a 1962 graduate of Boys High and a leader of the alumni group.

Future of Schools

IPS students have made their high school choices. Here’s where they want to go.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

High schoolers across Indianapolis Public Schools have made their choices for next year, and some schools are proving far more popular than others.

With all but four high schools set to close, the district is already in the midst of an upheaval. Students’ choices this year could have far-reaching implications for the configuration of the district for years to come.

Shortridge High School had the greatest increase in demand, with more than triple the 400 students enrolled there now listing it as their first choice for next year. George Washington High School, which also enrolls more than 400 students now, is not likely to grow too much. And while Arsenal Technical and Crispus Attucks high schools are both likely to grow by hundreds of students, neither saw interest grow as exponentially as Shortridge.

The final enrollment at each school will determine such critical issues as how many teachers are hired, what courses are available to students, and how much it costs to operate the buildings. Ultimately, students’ choices are likely to shape course offerings over the next several years, district officials said.

The enrollment figures are the result of a district mandate requiring students from across the district to select high schools and magnet programs this fall. More than 90 percent of 8th to 11th grade students have made selections so far. All students will be placed in their top choice program, according to the IPS spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black.

Fewer than 500 IPS students have chosen programs at George Washington so far, according to district data obtained exclusively by Chalkbeat. In contrast, more than 1,300 students have selected Shortridge, which will house the arts magnet program currently at Broad Ripple and the International Baccalaureate Programme. More than 2,300 students have chosen programs at Arsenal Tech (currently the district’s largest high school with 1,826 students) and 1,050 have selected Crispus Attucks (which currently enrolls 695).

The uneven distribution of students did not take  Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration by complete surprise.

At an Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Oct. 4, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick asked, “What happens if you don’t have a nice, somewhat-even distribution? … What if it’s very out of whack?”

Ferebee said that the district will have room to accommodate students if a school proves especially popular. In the long term, he added, IPS may have to adjust, by replicating  popular programs and discontinuing unpopular ones.

But Ferebee also said the district was hoping to persuade students to take another look at some of the programs that might not be popular at first.

For instance, he said, “We do know it’s going to take some time to educate families on construction and engineering. So we knew out of the gate, not many students may be interested, so it will take some time to build a program.”

Here is a full breakdown of the schools and programs that students chose:

In total 5,142 IPS students chose their preferred programs as part of a broad reconfiguration plan that includes closing nearly half of the seven high school campuses because of low enrollment. The district has not provided projections of how many students would enroll in each high school. But if enrollment doesn’t shift in the coming months, some campuses will be far closer to capacity then others. While the initial deadline for choosing schools and programs has passed, enrollment remains open to any students who have not yet made their selection.

If no other students enrolled in IPS high schools, Shortridge would be nearly 89 percent full. Arsenal Tech and Crispus Attucks would each be over 76 percent full. And George Washington would be about 25 percent full.

At the four remaining high school campuses, the district is aiming to “reinvent” high school by vastly expanding specialized programs in subjects such as business, engineering, and the arts, which students will study alongside their core classwork.

Next year, every student will be enrolled in specialized programs within high schools. District leaders hope that students will choose schools based on their interests, rather than their neighborhood.

Principal Stan Law will take over George Washington next year. In an interview about the school last week, before IPS released student selections numbers, Law said that it was important for students and families to get accurate information so they would select schools based on student career interests rather than neighborhood.

“Everyone has their ideas about things, but only certain people have the accurate information,” he said.

The most popular programs are the health sciences academy at Crispus Attucks and the Career Technology Center at Arsenal Tech, where students can study subjects such as culinary arts, welding and fire rescue. Each attracted more than 900 students. The least popular are the teaching program at Crispus Attucks, chosen by  104 students, and the information technology program at George Washington, chosen by 80.

Despite its apparent unpopularity with IPS students, the information technology program fits in with a state push to prepare students for careers in computer science and related fields. Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda calls for requiring high schools to offer computer sciences classes, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants computer science to be a high school graduation requirement.

breaking

Breaking: Indiana didn’t set aside enough money for schools. Senate leader says a fix is ‘top priority.’

PHOTO: Photo by Shaina Cavazos/Chalkbeat
Students at Global Prep Academy, a charter school, learn about comparing shapes. All schools could see less funding if lawmakers do not fix the funding shortfall.

State education officials are expecting a shortfall in school funding this year that could be as high as $9 million because state and local officials underestimated Indiana’s student enrollment.

If the legislature does not act to increase funding, districts, charter schools and private schools that receive state vouchers could all get less money than they were promised this year.

Senate President David Long said new legislation to appropriate more money to schools would be proposed, though other lawmakers involved in budget-making were less certain on what a solution would look like this early.

“It’s our top priority, education is, so it’ll have our full focus when we come back in January,” Long said.

But on the upside, he said, public school enrollment increased since last year.

“It’s not a bad problem,” Long said. “We have more kids going into public schools than we did last year, but it’s a challenge for us only in a sense that we need to adjust our numbers.”

A memo from the Indiana Department of Education said the legislature’s budget appropriation was short by less than one-half of 1 percent. When the amount the legislature allocated for school funding does not line up with its funding formula, “the law requires the Department to proportionately reduce the total amount to be distributed to recipients,” the memo said.

It’s not clear how the miscalculation in enrollment numbers occurred, said Rep Tim Brown, a key budget-writer and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The budget dollars are estimated based on projected school enrollment counts from districts themselves, the education department and the legislative services agency, which helps provide information and data to lawmakers.

Brown urged people to keep the number in perspective, especially since the budget is crafted based on estimates. Brown said this was the first year since he became involved with budget writing in 2013 that projected budget allocations ended up being less than school enrollment, which was calculated based on counts from September Count Day.

“We’re looking at what our options are, but let us keep in mind it is $1.50 out of every $10,000 a school gets,” Brown said, adding that he wasn’t sure this early on how lawmakers would act to make up the shortfall.

But J.T. Coopman, executive director for the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said even small amounts of money make a difference for cash-strapped schools. Districts have already started making contracts and have obligations to pay for teacher salaries and services at this point. It’s pretty late in the game for this kind of news, he said.

“I did see that it’s less than a half a percent, but for schools that’s a lot of money,” Coopman said. “Can we get this fixed before it becomes a real problem for school districts?”

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who leads a district that is already in deficit, was optimistic. In a statement, he said, “we’re encouraged by the commitment and urgency demonstrated by our legislative leaders.”

Neither Brown nor Long knew how much public school enrollment had increased. The $32 billion two-year budget passed in April increased total dollars for schools by about 3.3 percent from 2017 to 2019, for a total of about $14 billion. Included within that was a 2.5 percent average increase for per-student funding to $6,709 in 2019, up from $6,540 last year.

The news of a funding shortfall comes as the state continues to see declining revenue. The Northwest Indiana Times reports that state revenue is down $136.5 million (2.8 percent) from what lawmakers estimated this past spring for the next two-year budget.

During the annual ceremonial start to the 2018 legislative session today, leaders discussed a need to provide more resources to schools and the state board of education. So far, many of the priorities involving education this year look to address workforce needs and encourage schools to offer more computer science courses.

But House Speaker Brian Bosma also shouted out “innovative” steps made by Indianapolis Public Schools and Fort Wayne Public Schools.

“People are trying something different and they are having great results with it,” Bosma said. “We need to give them more tools, we need to give them more opportunities.”