new faces

Elia names new slate of state education leaders, including former city ELLs chief

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has finished forming her leadership team, tapping a former Las Vegas education official and a former head of New York City’s office for English language learners to join her in Albany.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved five appointments on Wednesday in Albany, ending an extended period of transition at the department that began when Elia’s predecessor, John King, departed at the end of 2014.

After the departures of several high-level deputies earlier this year, the new slate clears the way for Elia’s work to accelerate. Four of the five new hires are also women — notable in a department that has been dominated by men for decades.

  • Jhone Ebert, who has wide-ranging experience in education, will be the department’s senior deputy commissioner. She comes from Las Vegas, where she was Clark County’s “chief innovation and productivity officer.”
  • Cheryl Atkinson is moving from Syracuse to become assistant commissioner for the department’s Office of Innovation and School Reform, which will be in charge of implementing the state’s new “receivership” rules for struggling schools, among other initiatives. In addition to working as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in other states, she also worked for Success for All, the nonprofit curriculum program that was briefly in vogue in the 1990s.
  • Angelica Infante-Green will be deputy commissioner with a focus on instruction. She had been serving as an associate commissioner and headed New York City’s office of English language learners under Chancellor Joel Klein.
  • Lissette Colon-Collins, who also began her career in New York City schools, is becoming assistant commissioner for bilingual and language education. She previously was a “research fellow” employed by the Regents through a program that brought researchers to Albany outside of the regular civil service.
  • Charles Szuberla, who has worked at the department since 1986, will head a new division that aims to increase support to local school districts. “Across the state he is considered a problem solver,” Elia said.

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”