Indiana

New IPS school board chooses Diane Arnold as president

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Three new members joined the Indianapolis Public School Board tonight. Longtime member Diane Arnold was unanimously elected as president.

The Indianapolis Public School Board unanimously elected longtime board member Diane Arnold tonight as its president.

Arnold will reprise a role she played in 2013, serving as the voice of a board with three new members that seems eager to make big changes in the way the district’s schools are managed.

Arnold, who has been on the board since 2004, replaces Annie Roof, who was not reelected in November after an expensive, contentious school board race.

In 2013, Arnold wanted the job, but so did Sam Odle, a newcomer to the board that year. This time, Arnold said she didn’t seek the role. But the rest of the board ultimately felt she was the right choice.  Before the vote, board members were tight-lipped about who they were voting for.

“Diane has the closest relationship with the new board members,” board member Caitlin Hannon said. “We all kind of recognize we want to get going quickly, and she’s done this before.”

Odle was unanimously voted in as vice president. Echols was unanimously chosen as board secretary.

Arnold was president in 2013 during a difficult year for the district. That year the board voted to buy out former Superintendent Eugene White’s contract and the district grappled with a budget crisis.

arnold picture
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
Diane Arnold

“I certainly hope and anticipate that this year will be less filled with challenges and more filled with opportunities for real changes,” Arnold said. “We can only accomplish our goals if we work as a team and prioritize our work. Our district has made progress in the past year but we must work harder and smarter to make sustained transitional change to transform education from what has been accepted in the past.”

Three new board members also were sworn in tonight: Former State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, returning school board member Kelly Bentley and Carpe Diem Meridian charter school dean LaNier Echols were elected last November.

The election was contentious at times, and became a showdown over money and whether the district should partner with charter schools and introduce other reforms. The three winning candidates together raised about 20 times more than the three incumbents.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he was eager to get to work with the new school board.

“They’re passionate and committed and this is an opportunity for us to continue on the direction we’ve been going,” Ferebee said. “I look forward to serving with the team.”

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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