Indiana

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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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