Future of Schools

Ferebee pitches an IPS ‘transformation’ plan for troubled schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Board of Education member Dan Elsener asks questions of IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee at a board meeting last year.

George Washington and Northwest high schools and four elementary feeder schools could be grouped together in a wider turnaround effort that Indianapolis Public Schools is proposing as a way to avoid state takeover when schools get failing grades in the future.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, told the Indiana State Board of Education a “transformation zone,” modeled after a strategy used by Evansville’s city school district, could work better and maybe even save money in the long run. The state board is expected to vote on his plan in February.

“Takeover, to me, implies something that happens one time and is not sustainable,” Ferebee said. “Transformation, to me, is long-lasting … that you not only make progress for a year or two, but that you are able to sustain it over time.”

The transformation zone idea was introduced at the board’s December meeting. Ferbee wants to group troubled schools needing interventions such as state takeover and “lead partners,” a strategy that is more mild than takeover in which the state board has hired outside groups to advise school leaders.

IPS had four schools taken over by the state in 2012: Manual, Howe and Arlington high schools and Donnan Middle School. But IPS regained control of Arlington in December, the first district to get back a school taken over by the state. Two other schools that were assigned lead partners by the state, John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools, are being advised this year by Marzano Research Laboratories, a Colorado-based group.

For the transformation zone, IPS is working with Mass Insight, the same Massachusetts-based company that worked in Evansville. They’ll work to recruit teachers and help them develop skills, rethink lesson-planning and figure out how to make sure these changes are working. The plan also emphasizes changes to school culture and discipline, which has a big effect on how kids and community members perceive a school, IPS leaders said.

“If you have great people in the building and great instructional plans, it also must feel right for the kids,” Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand said. “Then you have to monitor these things to make sure they are effective.”

A special focus will be on middle school design and curriculum — an area many have said needs big changes so students are prepared for high school.

“There’s been struggling across the district in the middle grades,” Ferebee said. “That’s part of some of our challenges with the schools that were under the lead partner process.”

In the proposal, the zone would be phased into the district in four parts. First, the plan will be finalized by July based on state board and district input. Then in the 2015-16 school year, Northwest, Washington, School 48, School 55, School 49 and School 63 will take part. After an evaluation of how it works, the district hopes to expand the zone to other priority schools by 2017.

Mass Insight President Chris Maher said the early goals would be increased in attendance, decreased suspensions and more positive comments from faculty and staff, much like the group saw in its work in Evansville. Test scores, he cautioned, might take a bit longer to catch up.

“Academic improvement in education is generally not an upward trend consistently,” Maher said. “It depends where the schools are.”

Ferebee said he thinks this plan is a good fit for his district, which has a history of friction while working with outside partners that it thinks want to take too much control from IPS.

“We previously had a model where we would try to take everybody and try to get everything done at one time,” Ferebee said. “And you can see we’re scaling up the work … I think that’s the smart way to do it. I think it’ll be something that’ll be beneficial to our students and our families.”

baby steps

Efforts to integrate schools in one corner of New York City show promising signs, according to new data

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente is one of the District 1 schools that met enrollment targets under a new diversity plan.

A school integration plan launched in Manhattan’s District 1 showed early signs of progress, according to data released Thursday by the education department.

Seven of the district’s 16 elementary schools met their targets for offering a more diverse group of students admission. If families accept those offers, it would mean three more of the district’s schools fall within the city’s goals than before the plan was implemented.

More progress was made when it comes to offering admission to a similar share of students with disabilities across all schools. All but one school — East Village Community School — met their goals.

The goal is for all elementary schools to enroll a share of needy students — those who are homeless, living in poverty, or still learning English — that is close to District 1’s average of 67 percent. Before the integration plan was implemented, only four elementary schools in the district fell within that range.

The district also wants schools to admit a similar proportion of students who have special needs: between 9 and 29 percent.

But large disparities remain among schools. At the Neighborhood School, only 38 percent of offers went to needy students, compared with 81 percent of offers at Franklin D. Roosevelt. East Village Community school only offered 7 percent of seats to students with disabilities. At the STAR Academy, it was 25 percent.

“There was no belief that, in one year, this was going to transform everything,” said Matt Gonzales, who supports school integration work through the nonprofit New York Appleseed. “So it sounds like there’s been some shifts and that’s a really positive development.”

District 1 is the first place where the city is trying to integrate elementary schools across an entire district. The stakes for the trial are high: Encompassing the Lower East Side, East Village and a sliver of Chinatown, the district is widely seen as a potential model for other integration plans that are in the planning stages.

The numbers released Thursday only reflect admissions offers made. Parents still have to accept them. But they could also decide to send their children elsewhere, meaning the student enrollment could ultimately be different.

“If this was enrollment, I would be high-fiving everyone,” said Naomi Peña, the president of the local Community Education Council who has been an outspoken advocate for the district’s integration plans. “I think the real meat and potatoes is the actual registration.”

Districts across the city, including District 15 in Brooklyn, are developing their own proposals to spur more school diversity. So far, District 1 — a small, diverse neighborhood where all of the elementary schools are unzoned — is the only place where the city has moved forward after years of advocacy from parents.

Under the new admissions model, needy students receive priority for a portion of seats in the incoming kindergarten and pre-K classes at every school. It is coupled with an on-the-ground effort to make schools more welcoming to families of all backgrounds, and encourage parents to consider schools they may have shunned in the past. That work has been seen as crucial to making the plan work, since parents still have to choose where to send their children.

Another test of the model will come later this spring, when offers for pre-Kindergarten admissions go out.

The education department says progress is being made in other elementary schools across the city that have pursued their own integration efforts through the Diversity in Admissions program. Most of the dozen schools in that program met their targets for the upcoming year, according to data released by the education department.

Similar to the efforts in District 1, schools that opt-into the program reserve a portion of their open seats for needy students. Except the Diversity in Admissions program is school-by-school, instead of district-wide, and participating schools set their own enrollment goals. Some aim to admit more students who are in the child welfare system or have incarcerated parents, with targets ranging from 20 percent of students, to 75 percent.

I am excited to build on the progress we’ve made,” the outgoing schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said in a statement.


Impressed by Memphis students planning April walkout, Hopson gives his blessing

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson meets with student leaders from Shelby County Schools and other Memphis-area schools to discuss their planned walkout on April 20 to protest gun violence in the wake of this year's shooting rampage at a Florida high school.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Thursday that students who walk out of Memphis schools next month to protest gun violence will not be punished.

He also invited student organizers of the April 20 demonstration to speak April 24 to the Board of Education for Shelby County Schools “so our community can hear from these wonderful, thoughtful students.”

Hopson met Wednesday with about a dozen student leaders from district high schools, including White Station, Ridgeway, Central, and Whitehaven and Freedom Preparatory Academy.

“Based on this incredible presentation, I have agreed to be supportive of the walkout, as long as it’s done in an orderly fashion and as long as we work some of the details out,” Hopson said after the meeting.

“No students will be suspended or expelled for taking part in this event. No teachers will be disciplined for being supportive of these students,” he said.

At least six Memphis-area high schools are planning student walkouts on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 students and wounded 20 others in Littleton, Colorado.

Shelby County students did not participate in the March 14 nationwide walkout because Shelby County Schools and other local districts were on spring break. That walkout, which was held on the one-month anniversary of a shooting in Parkland, Florida, pushed for stricter gun laws and memorialized the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The April 20 walkout is part of a related nationwide “day of action” that encourages school events focused on pushing policy changes to reduce gun violence.

Hopson’s declarations put to rest concerns that students might be punished for trying to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech while the district also seeks to ensure school safety. Earlier this month, school districts in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, and New Jersey threatened students with unexcused absences, detention, and disciplinary action if they participated in the March 14 walkout.

Most of the student organizers in Memphis are involved in BRIDGES, a program that brings students together across racial and socio-economic divides to discuss civic issues.

Hopson called their walkout plan “one of the most amazing presentations I’ve ever seen.”

Many Memphis-area students also plan to participate Saturday in the related nationwide “March for Our Lives.” More details on the local march are available here.