Future of Schools

Monument Lighthouse charter school will close this spring

MonumentLighthouse
Monument Lighthouse Charter School is on Indianapolis’ northeast side near Lawrence Township.

The Indianapolis governing board that oversees two Lighthouse charter schools informed parents Thursday that the Monument Lighthouse school will close at year’s end.

The board decided the school, at 4002 Franklin Road, had not made enough progress toward the academic goals it established for itself upon opening in 2007, according to Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth. Another school operated by the board will absorb students from Monument Lighthouse, and the city will also help find spots in other schools for the 607 students who will be displaced by the closure.

Charter schools are operated by arrangements that can be complex, and Lighthouse is no exception. The two Indianapolis schools are sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard, who is responsible for monitoring their progress and can decide to close them if they don’t meet performance targets. Charter schools are directly guided, however, by local boards of citizens. In this case, that local board oversees two schools — Monument Lighthouse and Indianapolis Lighthouse — and picked an out-of-state company to manage it.

That company, Massachusetts-based Lighthouse Academies hires the principal and employs the staff at both schools. The company has a 20-school network in eight states.

The Monument school was due for a decision from Ballard’s charter school office as to whether it would earn a renewal of hits charter to keep operating at the end of the school year. By deciding to close on its own, the school made that decision instead of the mayor.

Kloth said it was a “responsible” decision by the school’s board and that the mayor’s office supported it.

“We have a shared belief it is in the best interest of students in the short term and in the longer term broadly,” Kloth said.

There is enough capacity at the Indianapolis Lighthouse campus at 1780 Sloan Ave. to accommodate any student that wants to transfer. The Lighthouse board is hoping they will.  Kloth said the mayor’s office will facilitate counseling for families to weigh other options, too, including transfers to other charters or traditional public schools.

While the Indianapolis Lighthouse board decided not to seek renewal of the Monument Lighthouse charter it will simultaneously expand its other location and could return to the Franklin Road location eventually. The board’s plan is to seek a future charter to replicate what it sees as a more successful program at the Indianapolis Lighthouse school in 2015, possibly at the Monument school site.

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The Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School is on the city’s southside. It has offered to absorb students when its sister school closes.

“We are excited to be undertaking he expansion of what we and the mayor’s office see as a high quality college prep program to meet the needs of the city,” said Samuel Snideman, who chairs the Indianapolis Lighthouse board, in a statement posted on the mayor’s Web site.

Monument Lighthouse, which serves grades K to 11, earned a D on its state report card for low state test scores and limited gains last year. This year’s report card has not yet been issued. The prior two years, the school earned A’s. Monument serves a student body that has 90 percent of students who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 97 percent who are minorities.

Its test scores have made progress, but slowly, and it has never approached the state average of 73 percent passing both English and math on ISTEP. Last year, 47 percent of students passed both parts, a dip from its all-time high of 52 percent the prior year. Its low was 37 percent passing the year the school opened in 2007-08.

That performance isn’t terribly different from its sister school, Indianapolis Lighthouse, which received a C this year and an A the prior year. But Indianapolis Lighthouse, which serves a student body that is 90 percent poor and 75 percent minority, has a more steadily upward trend in test scores, with more than 50 percent passing both parts of ISTEP the past three years.

In its six-year review of the Monument Lighthouse school earlier this year, Ballard’s review team found it met four of eight standards that it was evaluated on. By comparison, Indianapolis Lighthouse me seven of 11 standards in a mayor’s office checkup in 2012. Among the deficiencies cited at Monument Lighthouse by the Mayor’s review was teaching was not consistent with the school’s mission and a school climate that was “not conducive to student and staff success.”

For example the review report states that: “A consistent problem at Monument Lighthouse schools during this school year has been the use of long-term substitute teachers in the classroom, with five classes being taught by substitutes at one point during the school year.”

Discipline was also a problem.

“The parents interviewed were quite clear — they did not believe that in the past the school disciplinary system was effective or fair” the review team wrote. “They noted that when they visited their students’ classrooms in the past that here was often ‘no learning happening,’ and that their students were often censured for petty and inconsequential offenses.”

This is the second charter school to announce it will close this school year. Last month the International School, a Columbus charter school, abruptly closed for financial reasons. It is also the second mayor-sponsored charter school to close in the past two years. The Indianapolis Project School closed in 2012 by an order from the mayor’s office because of academic and financial concerns.

Earlier this year, Ball State University declined to renew a charter for one of three Lighthouse schools in Gary and East Chicago because of poor academic performance, prompting the company to reorganize in that part of the state. The three northwest Indiana schools all served grades K to 12 but now have consolidated into two schools. Each site has elementary grades with a consolidated high school campus attached to the Gary school.

 

Indiana's 2019 legislative session

Indiana’s push to raise teacher pay is creating some unlikely allies

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Middle school math teacher Eliana Moore, left, gives Armando Flynn, 13, some extra attention to help with a lesson in algebra.

It’s not every day that the state’s teachers union, Republican leaders, and education advocacy groups find themselves working toward the same goal. But this year, as Indiana puts teacher pay at the forefront of its legislative priorities, there seems to be an all-hands-on-deck approach to make it happen — and that means some unlikely allies.

During Tuesday’s ceremonial first day of the legislative session, House Speaker Brian Bosma announced in a speech to fellow lawmakers that Republican Reps. Bob Behning and Todd Huston — as well as representatives from the Indiana State Teachers Association, advocacy group Stand for Children, and the educator organization Teach Plus — were working on a plan to ensure teacher raises are part of the state’s next two-year budget.

“The most important profession for the future is those that serve in our classrooms,” Bosma said, adding that although the state has made increases over the past few years in school funding, pay for teachers has not kept pace even as administrative spending has increased.

It’s an unusual partnership because the teachers union has frequently had tension with Republicans who favor school choice and expanding the state’s charter school and private school voucher programs. The union, which staunchly advocates for traditional public schools, has also clashed over charter partnerships with districts, a model that Teach Plus and Stand for Children have supported, even though they aren’t inherently partisan.

Why now? The combination of local districts struggling to hire teachers and keep them in the classroom and a larger national conversation about teacher compensation has put raising teacher pay in the spotlight, both in Indiana and across the country. Last week, teachers in Portage, Indiana, picketed to push for larger raises as they negotiate a new contract.

“It’s been a crisis that’s been coming — we’ve seen it coming … and finally people are starting to connect the dots between compensation and retention,” said Teresa Meredith, president of ISTA, the state’s largest teachers union. “We finally had to take a step back and say, obviously fighting each other is not getting anything done.”

Meredith said state-driven policies that have led to more testing and dialed up the need for schools to compete for students naturally has resulted in increased spending on staff members who aren’t in the classroom. Now, she said, lawmakers are seeing how that’s affecting school budgets, and, in turn, making it difficult to attract and retain teachers.

The desire to figure out ways to keep teachers in the classroom also brought Teach Plus to the table, said Rachel Hathaway, program manager for the national organization’s Indiana arm. Teach Plus helps train teachers to be policy advocates.

“There is a moment happening this year that can bring folks together to really elevate the profession and support teachers to make sure they are able to stay in the classroom,” Hathaway said. Teach Plus has “a history of knowing the importance of teacher recruitment and retention and ensuring we have high-quality teachers in front of our students.”

And it’s that impact at the classroom level, Stand for Children Indiana executive director Justin Ohlemiller said, that speaks to his group’s mission. Stand is an organization that aims to help parents learn how to advocate for their children in schools, but the group has been criticized, such as during the recent Indianapolis Public Schools board election, because they do not have to disclose their spending.

“At the end of the day, data shows one of the most important single factors in children’s education is the educator at the front of the room,” Ohlemiller said.

Indiana’s plans for how to boost teacher salaries are expected to come into sharper focus over the next few weeks. But Bosma cautioned again Tuesday that there might not be much extra money to work with, casting some doubt on the state’s ability to raise pay enough to make a meaningful difference for educators across the state.

“We’re going to have more needs, more critical needs, than we have available dollars,” Bosma said.

Bosma wouldn’t offer details about how much money House Republicans would add for teacher pay, but said after funding obligations to the Department of Child Services, that state would have an optimistic $50 million per year in new revenue for other funding requests. If teacher pay were to receive just a piece of that, it would be far less than the $81 million per year or so that Senate Democrats have called for — which they figure would amount to a 5 percent raise for teachers and counselors over the next two years.

And if curbing teacher shortages is as much of a priority as the state’s majority is now pushing, state Democrat leaders say, Indiana needs to prove that come January by making it a meaningful part of the budget.

“We have the resources,” Sen. Tim Lanane, a Democrat from Anderson, said on Friday when his caucus presented its 2019 priorities. “We can make that sacrifice to make sure our teachers know we respect and appreciate them.”

cry for help

View from the child care trenches: ‘Those of us cleaning the poop are not making it’

PHOTO: Ann Schimke | Chalkbeat

At the end of three hours of briefings Monday on advancing care for Illinois’ tiniest residents, an on-the-ground provider’s 3-minute plea shook awake a gathering of the state’s top early childhood leaders and reminded them why they were there.

“We are in a crisis and unable to get help,” said Holtz, who in seven years has cycled through 147 staff members at her two day care centers in south central Effingham.

Turnover in that time among her 35 employees has been enough to staff the two centers more than four times over.

Speaking to the early learning council that directs how the state funds services for children from birth to age 5, Holtz said half of those departing sought better-paying jobs in other fields. Others headed to public school districts that pay better. Some she let go.

“Down here in the trenches, those of us who are cleaning the poop and plunging the toilets — we’re the ones who are not making it,” said Holtz, ticking off how well-intentioned Illinois directives make it tough to run a childcare business. She listed state policies like raising degree requirements for jobs that pay $8.50 to $10.25 an hour in her area, an endless stream of “health and safety” trainings, and lead and radon tests that cost her $1,000 apiece.

In a meeting that focused mainly on future ambitions, Holtz redirected attention to a present hazard: a critical shortage of qualified staffers to work in infant centers, daycare programs, and community-based preschools.  

The issue threatens to undercut any sort of universal pre-K program, which governor-elect J.B. Pritzker pledged to pursue as a candidate.

Preschool expert GG Weisenfeld said Illinois meets many established early learning benchmarks. But the state lags in salary parity. Other shortcomings: a revolving door of the state’s top leadership in early learning and a lack of full-day programs.   

“For preschools housed within public schools, those teachers have salary parity with other teachers,” said Weisenfeld, the lead author of a new state preschool policy scan from the National Institute for Early Education Research. “Unfortunately, when programs are housed in community-based centers, those teachers do not.”

But the state’s powerful Early Learning Council barely touched on that topic at its quarterly meeting Monday.

Holtz, one of only two people to address the council, said she drove several hours from Effingham for her three minutes at the mic. She said she supports the state’s push for better quality, but that effort doesn’t pencil out for her and other caregivers. One state subsidized program for low-income families reimburses her only $23 per day per child. That’s not enough to pay a lead teacher with a bachelor’s degree.

“When we do hire them, they uniformly all leave for better pay and benefits — and less stress. The stress is up there with the reasons for leaving, along with pay.”

As Illinois focuses on raising the quality of early learning throughout the state by requiring bachelor’s degrees for lead teachers in preschools, it faces a conundrum: Teachers with college degrees want to and can earn more than minimum wage elsewhere. (A 2017 state report said the median hourly wage for a licensed childcare center teacher was $12.50. Assistant teachers and infant caregivers generally made less.)

Jill Andrews, another downstate center director who heads up the Southern Illinois Child Care Assistance Task Force and made the trek with Holtz, handed out folders with her own set of recommendations.

Among them: raising state reimbursement rates for publicly funded child care programs, helping child care providers qualify for state health insurance, and offering community college credit as an incentive for workers to pursue training.