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IPS teachers push for better training during extra work days

Several American Way students held signs during Monday night's school takeover community meeting with Yes Prep.
Several American Way students held signs during Monday night's school takeover community meeting with Yes Prep.
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

If Indianapolis Public Schools teachers are going to work five extra days next year for training, they have a message for Superintendent Lewis Ferebee: It better be good.

Teachers protested lost time off that will result from Ferebee’s decision to exercise an option to add training days that was allowed under the teachers union contract but had not been required in the past. Part of the frustration, some teachers said, is that they have not found the district’s training options useful in the past.

Katherine Hinkle, a second-year Spanish teacher at Northwest High School, said she frequently attends training that is too general and not tailored to the needs of her school.

“People are insulted,” Hinkle said. “The way we feel going into it is, ‘Can you believe they’re really having us do this?’”

Meanwhile, she said, teachers are too busy for training they’d actually find valuable.

“They don’t give us time to really plan with people in our departments,” Hinkle said. “We could be really using our time more wisely.”

The added training is part of IPS’s strategic plan to improve teaching and learning across the district. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said in January the added days would result in better prepared students.

IPS administrators declined to be interviewed about about teacher training. Instead they issued prepared statements.

“Right now our time with teachers is limited, and we can’t develop teachers in the most meaningful ways with just snippets of time,” deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand said in a press release.

But school board members acknowledged teacher training at the district should be improved.

LaNier Echols, a former Teach for America teacher and charter school administrator who formerly taught in three IPS schools, said she understood teachers’ frustrations with the current offerings.

“I completely see where they’re coming from,” Echols said. “Many moons ago, I was sitting there frustrated to be away from my students. My hope and trust is in Ferebee to make sure that these (trainings) are meaningful and tailored for the teachers and their needs.”

It is not clear how, or if, training will change next year.

Curriculum officer Tammy Bowman said in a statement the district is currently developing a survey to better gauge what teachers are interested in learning. She did not directly respond to a question about whether she believed the district’s teacher training needs to be improved.

“The process will include tweaking existing offerings and looking at new topics,” Bowman said in a statement.

Before approving adding the new training days last month, some of the newly elected board members — who promised increased autonomy at the building level — said they wanted principals and teachers to have a bigger role in the process next year.

“I’m a big supporter of building-level decision making and the more we can allow schools to have input and control over the professional development, the better,” said board member Kelly Bentley. “Don’t waste the money if it’s not beneficial.”

Currently, central office staff members train principals and coaches. They then plan training for their teachers. Coaches also offer training after school, Bowman said in a statement.

IPS science teacher Gail Schwoebel said the district should try to reverse a longtime trend of lackluster training.

“When you have over 200 students and you give up your prep hour for training, it needs to be relevant to you because that means you’re going to have an extra load of papers to carry home, or you’re going to stay at school an extra hour,” Schwoebel said. “Too frequently, the target was missed, or it was the wrong target.”

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