Who Is In Charge

First steps toward changing Ritz's role expected Thursday

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz at November's Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

Republican lawmakers frustrated with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz will get their first chance on Thursday to discuss a bill that would effectively remove her as the leader of the Indiana State Board of Education.

The House Education Committee will take up House Bill 1609, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, which makes good on Gov. Mike Pence’s promise last month to seek a change in state law that would allow the state board to elect a replacement for Ritz as its chair. State law currently dictates that the state superintendent, who is elected statewide, will chair the board. Ritz is the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana.

In a speech announcing his legislative agenda last month, Pence pitched a trade of sorts: he pledged to shut down the Center for Education and Career Innovation and said in return Ritz should give up her guarantee of being chairwoman.

While Ritz complained frequently that CECI undermined her work, describing it as effectively a shadow education department, being chairwoman is one of the few tools she has to affect decision making by the 11-member state board, which was appointed entirely by Republican governors. At Pence’s order, CECI is closing down by next month.

Ritz and her supporters have not been enthusiastic about what she would have give up if state law were changed.

Ritz and her fellow board members have frequently been at odds over procedures, as Ritz has occasionally used her role as chairwoman to block votes or prioritize the agenda as she preferred it. While she has argued that managing the board meeting is part of her job, other board members have countered that the chairwoman role should be more ceremonial. The board has taken several steps over the past year to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the agenda or when votes are taken.

Republicans have responded with several bills that would change the duties of the state superintendent or the role of the state board. A total of eight bills have been filed that would change the state board in one way or another.

In the Senate, Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has assigned three such bills to the rules committee, where he said he would shepherd them. Long, who is Senate president, has endorsed the general approach of Senate Bill 1. It also would select the chair of the state board by a vote of its members, but Long said he is open to adding in other ideas for changing how the state board operates.

The House Education Committee meets at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday in Room 156-C at the Statehouse.

In other action on education bills today, the full House passed three bills, sending them to the Senate where they will be considered in March:

  • Transfers for school employees. House Bill 1056 requires school districts that have space to permit the children of their employees who live outside the school district to transfer into the district’s schools. The bill applies even to districts that have policies against transfers. In addition, the bill says district must accept transfers for children who attend private schools within their boundaries but live in a different school district, again if they have space available. It passed the House 95-0.
  • Teacher mentors. House Bill 1188, authored by Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, would prevent teachers from serving as mentors to student teachers unless they are rated effective by their school districts. It passed 97-0.
  • Adult charter high schools. House bill 1438 is primarily aimed at giving adult charter high school networks, like Goodwill’s Excel Centers or Christel House’s Dropout Recovery Schools, the ability to manage funds collectively rather than separate dollars into different accounts for each school. Other charter school networks were given that flexibility by the legislature last year. The bill passed 95-0.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

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: