School funding

Here’s how Nashville, Memphis school groups will spend $150,000 grants

PHOTO: (Photo by Ariel Skelley via Getty Images)
Members of the School Finance Research Collaborative are calling for equitable school funding so all Michigan students get the education they deserve.

Metro Nashville Public Schools and the dropout prevention organization Communities In Schools of Memphis have won planning grants of $150,000 each. Recipients are expected to use the money to develop a project aimed at improving local educational outcomes.

The Nashville district and the Memphis nonprofit are among 10 groups nationwide to receive money from Together for Students — an umbrella group composed of three education-focused organizations. Funding totalling $1.5 million comes from the Ford Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In Nashville, the effort will be focused on measuring the impact of its program Community Achieves, which centers on four key areas: college and career readiness, family engagement, health and wellness, and social services. But the program suffers from chronic absenteeism in participating schools. So the district plans to use the grant money to develop a technology platform to track attendance. Program leaders are also considering offering food, childcare and stipends to encourage dialogue between families and educators.

“If we’re looking at the impact that each partner is having on their kids, one thing we can’t tell right now is how many students are attending,” said Alison McArthur, program coordinator for Community Achieves. “Maybe it’s during the school day, and they’re not able to make it there. Maybe it’s during lunch, and they’re not coming. Maybe it’s after school and they don’t have transportation.”

In Memphis, the planning grant will support a collaboration between Communities in Schools, StriveTogether, which uses data to help close achievement gaps, and Seeding Success, which works to ensure student readiness throughout their K–12 years. Together, these groups are seeking to identify barriers to student achievement, and to connect students and families with relevant resources and interventions.

“We’re hoping to align systems that help us eliminate the disparities minority students face,” said Sonji Branch, executive director of Communities in Schools of Memphis.

The beauty of a planning grant, she said, is that it will allow programs like hers to identify what works and what doesn’t, before moving forward with a plan of action.

Award winners, selected from among 86 applicants, were announced on May 23. The other planning grant recipients are school districts or nonprofits in seven other states and the District of Columbia. They have until October to complete their project blueprint.

Future of Schools

Ogden school staffer arrested after 12-year-old student is hurt

PHOTO: Chicago Public Building Commission

A 12-year-old student at William B. Ogden Elementary School on the Near North Side suffered a sprained wrist this week in a physical altercation with a school employee, according to the Chicago Police Department.

The employee, Marvin Allen, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery of a child. He has been removed from the school pending an investigation, according to an email to parents from Acting Principal Rebecca Bancroft and two other administrators.

Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records list Allen as a student special services advocate and full-time employee at the school. Student special services advocates are responsible for working with at-risk children and connecting them and their families with social services, according to district job descriptions.

An email to parents Thursday night from school leaders said an incident had occurred earlier this week “that resulted in a “physical student injury.”

“While limited in what I can share, the incident took place earlier this week between a student and staff member off school grounds after dismissal,” read the message. “The employee involved has been removed from school while a CPS investigation by the Law Department takes place.”

District spokeswoman Emily Bolton confirmed that the employee had been removed pending a district investigation.

“Student safety is the district’s top priority and we immediately removed the employee from his position upon learning of a deeply concerning altercation that took place off of school grounds,” Bolton said.

The exact circumstances behind the incident are still unclear.

The altercation happened Monday morning outside the school’s Jenner Campus, which used to be Jenner Elementary School before Ogden and Jenner merged last year. The Jenner campus serves grades 5-8.

At recent Local School Council meetings, Bancroft, the acting principal, acknowledged a “fractured community” at the school in the aftermath of the merger, which joined two different schools — Ogden, a diverse school with a large white population and many middle-class families, and Jenner, a predominately black school where most students come from low-income households. At the January meeting, parents complained of student disciplinary problems at the Jenner campus. Jenner parents have also expressed concerns about inclusiveness at the school.

The school has also experienced leadership turnover. One of the principals who helped engineer the merger died last March after an illness. And in November, the district placed Ogden Principal Michael Beyer on leave after he was accused of falsifying attendance records.

The incident also comes on the heels of a video released in early February that shows a school police officer using a taser on a female Marshall High School student.

On the hunt

Want a say in the next IPS superintendent? Here’s your chance.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat

Parents, teachers, and neighbors will have a chance to weigh in on what they hope to see in the next Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent and the future of the district at three community meetings in the coming weeks.

The meetings, which will be facilitated by Herd Strategies at three sites across the city, will gather feedback before the school board begins the search for a new superintendent. The school board is expected to select the next superintendent in May.

Board President Michael O’Connor said the meetings are designed to get input on what the public values in the next superintendent. But they will also play another role, allowing community members to reflect and give feedback on the district’s embrace of innovation schools, one of the most controversial strategies rolled out during former Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration.

“As we look for the next superintendent, it’s perfect for us to take input on that path that we’ve taken and then hear what [community members] think is working well and maybe what they think we could do better,” O’Connor said, noting that the administration and board are often criticized for failing to engage the public.

Innovation schools are run by outside charter or nonprofit managers, but they are still considered part of the district. Indianapolis Public Schools gets credit from the state for their test scores, enrollment, and other data. The model is lauded by charter school advocates across the country, and it helped Ferebee gain national prominence.

Ferebee left Indianapolis in January after he was tapped to lead the Washington, D.C., school system. Indianapolis Public Schools is being led by interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, who was formerly the deputy superintendent and is seen as a leading candidate to fill the position permanently.

Here is information about the three scheduled community input sessions:

Feb. 27, Hawthorne Community Center, 1-3 p.m.

March 7, Arsenal Technical High School in the Anderson Auditorium, 6-8 p.m.

March 13, George Washington Carver Montessori School 87 in the gymnasium, 6-8 p.m.