Ferebee interested in longer school days or school year for some schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

(Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, sat down with Chalkbeat Indiana Bureau Chief Scott Elliott on Monday night at the downtown public library for a one-on-one interview sponsored by WFYI. The full interview will be broadcast online next week but Chalkbeat is publishing some excerpts in the interim. Go here for Ferebee’s comments about middle schools and high schools.)

With more than half of Indianapolis Public Schools rated a D or F, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is looking for ideas for how to overhaul those low performers, and big potential changes are on the table. Among the possible strategies: longer school days or a longer school year at some schools.

Already, Ferebee has backed a bill that passed the legislature in March allowing him to partner with charter schools or other outside groups to try to improve low rated schools. Now the district has partnered with The Mind Trust and Mayor Greg Ballard’s office to create a fellowship to allow educators with smart reform ideas to spend a year developing them into plans that could be used at IPS schools.

In the interview this week, Ferebee said he believes some of IPS’s successful schools have already found ways to essentially add learning hours for their students, sometimes through volunteerism in the schools or community partnerships. For kids who are far behind, he said, that approach may be simply necessary.

Any plan for more hours or school days for teachers could raise concerns from the district’s teachers union. Its leaders have complained recently that Ferebee has not done a good job of communicating with them.

Here is more of what Fererbee had to say about this from the interview, and some responses from the union:

IPS has 10 A rated schools. Several of those are magnet schools but some or typical neighborhood schools. How are they overcoming the odds?

In Indianapolis, our choice schools still are the schools rising to the top as it relates to performance. That’s our charter schools and our magnet schools. I like to believe that our magnet schools are outperforming our charter schools. But our choice environments typically do better.

Where we have pockets of success, and we need more schools rising to the top, would be our neighborhood schools. Our neighborhood schools that are doing really well, typically you’ll find a strong leader, you will find a curriculum or instructional program that is embodied or embraced by the entire staff. You will also find a school that has tremendous wrap around services.

Typically in those schools you’ll see leaders or staff members who have gone out to the community and garnered community support where not only students are receiving additional supports in the school but they’re also receiving those supports from community organizations during the day or outside the school day.

Many of those schools have also mastered the art of extending the school day. You’ll find enrichment activities after school, opportunities for remediation during the day or after school as well. You’ll see in those schools they are moving the needle by providing those additional opportunities for students and families.

Do we need a longer school day or school year to meet the needs of children in IPS?

There’s definitely interest, particularly where we have students who are below grade level two or more years. The research is very clear, especially in literacy. If you are more than two years behind you need at least 90 to 120 minutes more of instruction compared to those students who are on grade level to get on grade level and surpass those students with achievement. What we have to do is find creative ways to ensure students get that time.

Unfortunately students may get that time by losing out on something else. I’d like to see us explore options where students get the arts, they get the physical activity they need and still get that remediation time. Sometimes I think that may require us to have a longer school day for select students or select schools.

The traditional 180 day, six and a half hour model is antiquated. If you look at many of the charter schools in Indianapolis that are getting results, you either see a longer school day or a longer school year. I think that’s something we need to explore for IPS.

How will you manage the process of working with the teachers union?

I think every superintendent and education association in a bargaining situation will have differences of opinion. They have a constituency they need to support and represent and I have to assure that our students get what they need. I think sometimes people don’t realize one is adult interest and another is student interest. But I believe we can find common ground as it relates to ensuring our families and students get what they need.

But we will have to sit down at the table for bargaining to work through issues such as compensation. It’s been a while since we had a significant increase in pay in some form. We also have a situation where it’s costing our employees more for their benefits, which ultimately impacts them at the end of the day as it relates to what they take home. That’s going to be something that we have to look at.

I look forward to having those discussions. As I said to you earlier I’m a teacher at heart. I want to make sure that our teachers are taken care of, as well as other staff members that support our students. I’m hoping that we can preserve reserves in such a way where we are preparing for the future while at the same time address the compensation needs that we have for our employees.

Rhondalyn Cornett, president of the district’s teachers union, addressed questions about the district’s relationship with the union, and the idea of extending the school day or year, after the Innovation School Fellowships were announced. Cornett was perturbed that the union had not been told in advance about the fellowships. She also said Ferebee may need to be brought up to speed on the union’s past flexibility, which included allowing schools to extend the school day provided there was extra pay for teachers.

Here is Cornett’s response to Ferebee:

My problem with (the fellowship proposal) is they keep saying they’re talking to us but we didn’t have a clue what was happening tonight. We’ve done the longer days at John Marshall (High School). We agreed and compensation was offered to the teachers. We don’t have a problem with trying new things at all. We have excellent teachers with excellent ideas. I want to see some IPS teachers, and not just one, in the group (of innovation school fellows).


School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede