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.

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.

Innovation zone

Two more Denver schools win additional freedom from district rules

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat
Alex Magaña, then principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, greeted students as they moved between classes in 2015.

Two more Denver schools this week won more flexibility in how they spend their money and time. The schools will create a new “innovation zone,” bringing the district’s number of quasi-autonomous zones to three.

The Denver school board on Thursday unanimously approved the schools’ application to operate more independently from district rules, starting in January.

The new zone will include Grant Beacon Middle School in south Denver and Kepner Beacon Middle School in southwest Denver. The two schools are high-performing by the district’s standards and follow a model that allows students to learn at their own pace.

With just two schools, the zone will be the district’s smallest, though Beacon leaders have signaled their intent to compete to open a third school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood, where the district has said it will need more capacity. The district’s other two innovation zones have four and five schools each.

Schools in zones are still district schools, but they can opt out of paying for certain district services and instead spend that money on things that meet their specific needs, such as additional teachers or aides. Zones can also form nonprofit organizations with their own boards of directors that provide academic and operational oversight, and help raise extra dollars to support the schools.

The new zone, called the Beacon Schools Network Innovation Zone, will have a five-member board of directors that includes one current parent, two former parents, and two community members whose professional work is related to education.

The zone will also have a teacher council and a parent council that will provide feedback to its board but whose members won’t be able to vote on decisions.

Some Denver school board members questioned the makeup of the zone’s board.

“I’m wondering about what kinds of steps you’re going to take to ensure there is a greater representation of people who live and reside in southwest Denver,” where Kepner Beacon is located, asked school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the region. She also asked about a greater representation of current parents on the board.

Alex Magaña, who serves as executive principal over the Beacon schools and will lead the new zone, said he expects the board to expand to seven members within a year. He also said the parent council will play a key role even if its members can’t vote.

“The parent council is a strong influence,” he said. “If the parent council is not happy, that’s going to be impacting both of the schools. I don’t want to undersell that.”

Other Denver school board members questioned the zone’s finances and how dependent it would be on fundraising. A district summary of the zone’s application notes that the zone’s budget relies on $1.68 million in foundation revenue over the next 5½ years.

Magaña said the zone would eventually seek to expand to four schools, which would make it more financially stable. As for philanthropic dollars, he said the zone would work to ensure any loss of revenue doesn’t hurt the schools’ unique programs or enrichment.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it won’t impact the schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Denver school board members said they have confidence in the Beacon model and look forward to seeing what its leaders do with their increased autonomy.