Indianapolis Public Schools leaders are bringing in new staff and extra coaching at School 43, after a recent meeting about the departure of the latest principal at the troubled school devolved into an outlet for frustrated parents and teachers.
The school, which is also known as James Whitcomb Riley, has filled a teacher vacancy, an office assistant position, and a position for an assistant to help with student behavior. The school also hired someone to work with parents and added four part-time staffers from a nearby community center to help with student behavior, according to district officials.
At a meeting about the plan for the 450-student school Thursday, Donavan Avance, an employee who helps with student behavior problems, said the new staffers from the Martin Luther King Community Center are already beginning to help.
“It frees me up,” said Avance, who is expected to move to the parent engagement job in the coming weeks. “I’ve been able to support the new teacher, going in and just kind of sit down and identifying those students with particular behaviors.”
After years of failing letter grades from the state, the school was added to the district transformation zone this year. Schools in the zone get dedicated support and regular visits from a team at the central office. But former-Principal Bakari Posey left School 43 in mid-February, the third principal to leave the school in four years. Since then, transformation zone staff have been visiting more often, with someone from their team in the building about once a day, said Brynn Kardash, the district’s executive director of schools for the zone.
The problems at the school have become a flashpoint for critics of the current Indianapolis Public Schools administration in recent weeks, with repeated comments about the problems at school board meetings. They argue that the district has let traditional district schools flounder while focusing on partnerships with charter schools.
Kardash, though, believes the coaching is helping. A teacher at the school, for example, had asked a district coach to come back the next week to watch her class, see behavior problems, and help her come up with strategies to deal with them, Kardash said. “I felt like that was huge,” she said. “I was pumped.”
At a meeting about School 43 in February, parents and teachers raised concerns about the stability of the neighborhood school on the north side of the district. And they asked for staff to help with student behavior problems and to reduce the number of suspensions.
There were fewer than 20 people at the meeting Thursday, and the conversation remained focused on concrete steps to improve the school and find a new principal.
Aleesia Johnson, interim superintendent for Indianapolis Public Schools, acknowledged the challenges at School 43.
“We have a lot of trust to build at this school,” Johnson said. “The only way you really build that is with time and with following through on what you say you are going to do.”