IPS dumps Teach Plus contract as board members trade barbs

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Indianapolis Public School Board members Gayle Cosby, Diane Arnold and Michael Brown discuss district issues at a July school board meeting.

The Indianapolis Public School Board reversed course and dumped a contract with a national teacher program, which it approved just a week ago, by a 4-1 vote tonight as angry board members accused each other of playing politics.

Board member Diane Arnold demanded that those who voted against the deal, which is mostly funded by philanthropic donations, explain why they wanted to cancel a deal that pays $6,000 stipends to teacher leaders at three low-rated schools who are specially trained by the non-profit group Teach Plus.

The program is run by Teach Plus’ national office, but its local executive director is IPS board member Caitlin Hannon, who abstained from voting. Hannon is seen as allied with candidates who are spending thousands of dollars to try to unseat three of her fellow board members, all of whom voted no today, in an election next week.

“She’s not getting compensated,” Arnold said of Hannon while criticizing the decision to back out of the deal. “That concerns me because that’s a personal vendetta that will hurt our children.”

Board member Samantha Adair-White, who has two challengers in her re-election bid, said she didn’t support the program, called Turnaround Teacher Teams or T3, because she wants an across-the-board raise for all teachers instead of stipends for a few. She took exception to being accused of voting no because of Hannon.

“Caitlin is a grown woman,” Adair-White told Arnold. “You always get on the mic and you’ve got to make this big old spiel about ‘It’s because of Caitlin.’ No, it’s not. It’s what’s right by all teachers, not just T3 teachers. We service all teachers. That’s what’s right.”

Board President Annie Roof, also being challenged for re-election, called the meeting and was the only board member to change her vote from last week. Roof said she liked the program, but was unhappy Superintendent Lewis Ferebee had launched it before the board voted yes.

“I am not going against T3,” Roof said. “When something of this magnitude falls through the cracks, it’s our responsibility to address it, fix it and move forward when we’re all comfortable with the process.”

Board member Gayle Cosby said she wished more money went toward the teachers’ stipends. Michael Brown said he’d rather see a half a percent raise for all teachers. Adair-White said she would never support the Teach Plus program.

That didn’t impress teachers from the three schools — School 14, School 44 and School 61 —that were signed up for the program. They were joined by IPS teacher of the year Tina Ahlgren, who said she was dismayed by the board vote.

“I’m disappointed for the teachers who have already committed to the program,” Ahlgren said. “It’s even brought some quality teachers back to the district. It’s one thing to have never brought it here, but I’m concerned about them promising teachers something and then taking it away from them.”

Advocacy group Stand for Children’s executive director, Justin Ohlemiller, called the board’s decision “unfathomable” and driven by politics.

“I think the timing is incredibly curious,” Ohlemiller said. “The back and forth tonight was personal and political and has no place in this board room. The job of this district is to educate our children. Why would you ever vote to slow down a program that is doing exactly that, especially children in our most struggling schools?”

Board members Roof, Adair-White, Brown and Cosby voted to rescind the contract. Arnold was the lone no vote. Sam Odle was absent.

Ferebee also was absent from the meeting due to a family matter. His top organizational strategist, Le Boler, called the situation a misunderstanding.

“We’ll definitely do everything we can to resolve the matter,” Boler said. “I know there’s a willingness to employ a lead teacher. Each of (the board members) agree we need to grow our own professionals. That’s a starting point. We need to figure out if this is going to be the best approach or if we need to consider something else.”

Under the contract, IPS would have paid nearly $750,000 to Teach Plus. The Eli Lilly and Company Foundation has already given $1 million to IPS to support the program.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”