IPS sticking with priority school list despite grade changes

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 58 improved to a C from an F this year based on improved test scores.

After struggling for three years to earn a passing grade from the state of Indiana — and under threat of possible state takoever — Indianapolis Public School 58 finally did it this year, leaping to a C from an F.

The swing was driven by a gain in the percentage of students passing ISTEP, up to 49 percent from 44 percent last year, but the better grade wasn’t enough to get off Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s watch list.

In fact, Ferebee said last year’s list of 11 priority schools, made up of schools that had consecutive F grades and flat test score growth, won’t change at all. The schools that improved, like School 58, will continue as “priority schools.” But Ferebee also doesn’t want to add an new priority schools to his list, even those that earned their second consecutive F grade.

There are six new schools that would meet last year’s criteria: School 55, School 63, School 107 and the middle school students from Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple and George Washington high schools, who are treated as if they attended separate schools by the state.

That’s important because the district’s priority school designation brings with it extra supports from the central office, more teacher professional development and a principal hiring incentive program.

In order to be removed from the IPS priority schools list, a school must earn a grade of C or better for two consecutive years, according to deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. But adding more priority schools is costly, and the district wants to remain focused on improving the original group.

“When we arrived during the 2013-14 school year, there were 22 schools rated F,” Legrand said. “Due to limited resources, the bottom 11 were chosen as IPS priority schools. Those 11 schools rated F either had decreased in A-F points from the 2012-13 school year or hadn’t achieved any points during the 2012-13 school year.”

And Ferebee said A-F grades and test scores aren’t the only factors that should be used to measure a school’s quality.

“The A-F accountability designations are very volatile,” Ferebee said. “They go up and down, they swing. It’s just one factor of progress. We wanted to make sure we did a deeper dive into growth.”

But the district isn’t neglecting IPS’s other poorly performing schools, he said. Ferebee said wants to be even more aggressive with schools that are showing signs of struggle, even if they aren’t officially designated “priority schools.”

“We’ve included some schools into that work without officially adding them to the list based on needs that have come up,” Ferebee said. “We’re not going to wait until a school gets on a certain list to react and respond. We’ll use that to inform our efforts for school improvement.”

In fact, other IPS schools made the state’s separate “priority” list for test score drops or consistently low performance. The district announced the state’s updated list at its December school board meeting. Though there is some overlap, the 15 schools flagged by the state are not the same as the district’s own list.

School 48, for example, made the state’s list for its alarming trend of poor ISTEP performance. After three straight years of earning F’s, the school jumped to a D last year. This year, it was back down to an F. But it is not considered an IPS priority school.

Ferebee thinks School 48, and other schools like it, are making progress, even if the state views them as being in serious danger of failing. The district is still watching those schools carefully, even if they are not on the list for the greatest urgency.

“We want to make sure we stay committed with the schools we chose,” Ferebee said. “We know it takes at least two to three years to sustain and build capacity.”

The IPS schools recently named by the state as priority schools are:

  • Elementary schools: Key Learning Community, School 42, School 44, School 48, School 55, School 63, School 69, School 93, School 103, School 107
  • Middle schools: Broad Ripple, Crispus Attucks, George Washington, Northwest and John Marshall

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