Who Is In Charge

Hogsett says he'll rely on school district leaders for education advice

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett convened superintendents from across Marion County for an education summit Wednesday.

Will Indianapolis’ new mayor, Democrat Joe Hogsett, be the same sort of activist when it comes to schools as his predecessors who championed charter schools?

That remains to be seen, but the city’s school district leaders today took the first steps toward finding out.

Hogsett struck a deferential pose at a summit with Marion County superintendents in his office, inviting their insights on the education agenda he laid out during the campaign and praising their work improving graduation rates.

“Today’s conversation was the beginning of what I hope will be continued communication,” Hogsett said.

The summit included superintendents from township districts and Indianapolis Public Schools, following on one of Hogsett’s campaign promises: to expand the discussion about education in the city to include more conversation about township schools and less heavy focus on IPS and charter schools.

The group discussed early childhood education, school discipline, teacher recruitment and retention, poverty and post-graduation transitions to college and careers over two hours. But Hogsett did not push for any specific policy steps.

That’s in line with the approach that Hogsett espoused during the election campaign, when he told Chalkbeat that he saw the mayor’s role in education as a “convener” of education discussions and supporter of city public schools.

But in Indianapolis, the mayor’s office has rarely been on the sidelines for education debates over the 16 year run of mayors Greg Ballard and Bart Peterson. Their advocacy of charter schools as a way to improve education has shifted the landscape so that more than 10,000 students now attend charter schools sponsored by the mayor’s office. Hogsett has said little about how closely he will follow their lead by opening more schools.

In fact, charter schools did not even come up in the conversation with superintendents, Hogsett said. He introduced the superintendents to two leaders responsible for overseeing his office’s education agenda: Ahmed Young, the new deputy mayor for education, and Kristin Hines, a Ballard administration holdover who directs of the mayor’s charter school work.

Hogsett said he is open to discussing an effort by former Indianapolis Public School Board member Caitlin Hannon to build a unified enrollment system for public and charter schools in Indianapolis, but he stopped short of urging more school districts to participate.

“I am mindful that the role of the mayor of the city of Indianapolis is not to tell local public school corporations how to run their business,” he said. “The reason for the meeting today is so I can be aware of the challenges that they face.”

Common enrollment — a single form parents can fill out to request a spot in IPS or charter schools — has strong support from some school and community leaders but has been met by skepticism from others.

When it came to today’s release of ISTEP scores, which plunged for Indianapolis schools and schools across the state in 2015, Hogsett again deferred to superintendents. He said he was focused more on graduation rates and how well prepared students are for jobs or college to judge schools than test scores.

As a former U.S. Attorney, Hogsett instead pushed a theme of using improved education and job training for kids as a way to reduce poverty and crime.

“The challenge is not to rescue kids from the criminal justice system,” he said, “but to try to figure out ways that we can keep our kids out of the criminal justice system altogether.”

Peterson launched an aggressive push to open charter schools after his election in 2000, arguing they would give kids better options for learning and put pressure on the IPS to respond with improvements of its own. By the time he lost his second reelection bid in 2007, Peterson oversaw a fast-growing portfolio of 14 charter schools.

His Republican replacement, Ballard, largely continued Peterson’s pro-charter school policies, nearly doubling the number of mayor-sponsored charter schools during his two terms.

Hogsett said he supports the charter schools that Peterson and Ballard helped launch since 2002, but also called for tough accountability for charter schools that fail.

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: