Early Childhood

Appointing IPS board members on Brewer's agenda for mayoral campaign

Chris Barbic, superintendent of the state's Achievement School District, urged lawmakers to approve a bill that would permit ASD-authorized charter schools to enroll some out-of-zone students.

Indianapolis Republican mayoral candidate Chuck Brewer thinks the city should be more involved in education — so much so that he proposed adding two mayoral appointees to the Indianapolis Public School Board.

Brewer, a veteran and owner of the downtown Soupremacy restaurant, set out six education priorities for his campaign, including a plan for working with IPS that has two potentially controversial ideas: the mayor naming a Republican and Democrat to the IPS school board and creating common enrollment and school evaluation systems that would apply both to traditional public and charter schools.

Brewer said the appointments, which would up the board to nine members from seven, would let both the district and city cooperate and collaborate better than they have in the past.

“The engagement of our city’s top elected leader, the mayor, is necessary, and I want to help IPS grow and succeed,” Brewer said at a news conference today. “The two mayoral appointments will provide the opportunity for solid positive impact while respecting the democratic process and the role of the seven elected IPS board members.”

But Gayle Cosby, who currently serves as an elected IPS board member, said she believed appointment would actually dilute the diversity of the board.

“I think we would end up with a school board that’s unrepresentative and probably unresponsive to the needs of our community,” Cosby said. “You lose the voter’s voice.”

The idea of appointing IPS board members isn’t new — The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis non-profit group that pushes for innovation and change in education, called for total mayoral control of the IPS school board back in 2011.

“Chuck deserves credit for raising the issue,” Mind Trust CEO David Harris said,

But Harris, who was the director of charter schools under former Mayor Bart Peterson, also said he believed two appointments to the school board doesn’t go far enough.

“If the mayor is going to have appointments, he or she should have a majority of appointments so it’s clear who’s responsible,” Harris said. “It creates clear lines of accountability. There’s one identifiable elected official that the public can hold responsible for the quality of the schools.”

In 2011, The Mind Trust released a bombshell 160-page report calling for a massive overhaul of the management of IPS. It called for the mayor to appoint members of the school board, slashing central office spending, empowering principals to manage schools more freely and creating a strategy to recruit charter school operators to work with the district.

In the three and a half years since the report came out, IPS has embraced all of those ideas to some extent with one glaring exception: there has been no support for the idea of mayoral appointments to the board.

Brewer said he spoke with IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee about the proposed appointments. The conversations were productive, he said, but he wouldn’t comment on how Ferebee felt about the issue.

IPS spokeswoman Kristin Cutler said Ferebee also wouldn’t give further details.

“Dr. Ferebee welcomes conversations with candidates, but doesn’t comment directly on election matters,” she said.

IPS board member Kelly Bentley said she doesn’t support or oppose the idea of appointing board members, but having the discussion in the context of the mayor’s race makes the subject needlessly political.

“We’ve got a lot of important work we’re trying to do,” Bentley said. “This is just a distraction that we don’t need right now. It’s a discussion worth having, but it probably should occur outside of the politically charged environment of a mayor’s election.”

Brewer’s education plans focus on IPS

Unlike his opponent Democrat Joe Hogsett, Brewer said his vision for how the city needs to improve education concerns more focused on IPS. Hogsett has spoken about the need for the mayor to have a broader view of education across the city, including township school districts.

“I’ve started to meet with a number of the different superintendents to find out what their needs are, and I’m about halfway through,” Brewer said. “Right now, I’m focused on the district that has our brand name: Indianapolis. When people focus on where they want to live and if they want to live in Indianapolis, generally the first school system they Google is IPS.”

And with that focus comes ideas for more changes, some of which the district has started to embrace on its own. A common enrollment process — one application system by which parents can select their school preferences from among traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools — has also been considered by Ferebee.

But Brewer also wants to take the mayor’s process of overseeing and evaluating charter schools and extend it to IPS schools as well.

“A single evaluation and a single enrollment system is going to allow parents to apply an apples-to-apples comparison of schools in the district,” Brewer said. “It’s going to enable them to make the best decisions for their children.”

Other parts of Brewer’s education plan are:

  • Deputy mayor. Jason Kloth’s last day in this role is Friday, but Brewer said he wants to keep the deputy mayor role.
  • Charter school office. Brewer would extend the mission of the charter school office to also oversee workforce development efforts.
  • Preschool. The plan calls for the state legislature to expand support for poor children to attend preschool.
  • Charter schools. Brewer endorsed Mayor Greg Ballard’s work to expand charter schools with good test scores and apply accountability to those that fail to improve.
  • Summer jobs. The plan suggests an online database of summer jobs available through the city and other organizations and a push to offer more of those jobs to high school students.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.

Enter to win

Denver organization to launch national prize for early childhood innovation

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

A Denver-based investment group will soon launch a national contest meant to help scale up great ideas in the early childhood field — specifically efforts focused on children birth to 3 years old.

Gary Community Investments announced its Early Childhood Innovation Prize on Wednesday morning at a conference in San Francisco. It’s sort of like the television show “Shark Tank,” but without the TV cameras, celebrity judges and nail-biting live pitch.

The contest will divvy up $1 million in prize money to at least three winners, one at the beginning stages of concept development, one at a mid-level stage and one at an advanced stage. Gary officials say there could be more than one winner in each category.

The contest will officially launch Oct. 25, with submissions due Feb. 15 and winners announced in May. (Gary Community Investments, through the Piton Foundation, is a Chalkbeat funder.)

Officials at Gary Community Investments, founded by oilman Sam Gary, say the contest will help the organization focus on finding solutions that address trouble spots in the early childhood arena.

The birth-to-3 zone is one such spot. While it’s an especially critical time for children because of the amount of brain development that occurs during that time, it’s often overshadowed by efforts targeting 4- or 5-year-olds.

Steffanie Clothier, Gary’s child development investment director, said leaders there decided on a monetary challenge after talking with a number of other organizations that offer prizes for innovative ideas or projects.

One foundation they consulted described lackluster responses to routine grant programs, but lots of enthusiasm for contests with financial stakes, she said.

“There’s some galvanizing opportunity to a prize,” she said.

But Gary’s new prize isn’t solely about giving away money to create or expand promising programs. It will also include an online networking platform meant to connect applicants with mentors, partners or investors.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make it not just about the winners,” Clothier said.