Future of Schools

Ahmed Young wants to help push the city's education efforts in a new direction

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Ahmed Young, 36, will oversee Mayor Joe Hogsett's city-sponsored charter schools and the office of education innovation.

There are a few things Ahmed Young wants you to know about him.

1. Unlike his predecessor, Jason Kloth, he doesn’t have the title of deputy mayor for education. Director of the Office of Education Innovation will do just fine.

2. Mayor Joe Hogsett’s education agenda, which Young will be pushing, will advocate for public schools and have the highest expectations for the charter schools he oversees.

3. No, his remarkable family is not trying to take over the education policy world.

Who is Ahmed Young?

At age 36, he’s been a teacher in IPS, Lawrence Township and New York City, and he’s been a lawyer specializing in education law. He got to know Hogsett at the Bose McKinney Evans law firm, where Young’s work on a variety of education law cases — licensing, terminations, school board issues, federal education law, school funding and more — sparked an interest in education policy.

That’s what led to a phone call from Hogsett, in which he proposed a “crazy conversation.” Would Young consider coming to work for the city in Kloth’s role?

“I thought it wasn’t a crazy conversation at all,” Young recalled. “I thought it was an interesting challenge for me. Education can have generational impact. If you don’t believe that in education, you are in the wrong business.”

For Young, education has become something of a family business. Consider:

  • Young’s mother is Khaula Murtadha, a vice chancellor at IUPUI who has taught education there and at Indiana University.
  • He met his wife, Jasmin Shaheed-Young, while the two were working for Upward Bound, a federally funded education program that aims to encourage high school students to go to college. She now works as director of corporate and community relations for Keystone Construction Group. Her father is retired Marion County Judge David Shaheed.
  • Her sister, Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, has been vice president of strategy and community engagement at The Mind Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for educational change, for three years.
  • Another of Young’s sisters-in-law is Mariama Shaheed Carson, a former decorated Pike Township principal who won a fellowship from The Mind Trust to develop a dual-language immersion charter school, called Global Preparatory Academy, that is slated to open next fall in an IPS building. She is married to U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis.

Despite those strong connections to the school reform community, Young doesn’t necessarily put himself in that camp.

“It is an unfair characterization,” he said. “I look at it much more broadly than that. I would peg myself in the realm of advocating for all of our students. It is limiting to say I am in the education reform movement.”

And the move of now three members of his well-connected family into education policy work over the past three years, he said, is nothing more than a happy coincidence.

“There is no puppet master,” he said. “For me it’s just timing and an opportunity to be a public servant. There’s no ‘National Treasure’ hunt. It might make interesting reading to see people put the dots together. But there are no dots. It’s just people working together to make sure kids have an opportunity for education.”

So what exactly is the agenda Hogsett and Young have in store for Indianapolis?

Certainly more focus on traditional public schools, Young said.

It was noticeable that Hogsett’s first official move on education was to call together Marion County superintendents. In conversations with reporters afterward, the words “charter schools” were never even mentioned, despite the fact that Hogsett now oversees more than 30 schools with enough students to rival the larger school districts in the city.

“He has an ambitious agenda,” Young said. “Indianapolis has been blessed over the last 50 years to have a continuation of progress. He recognizes he is not the mayor of education, but to take Indianapolis to the next level, education has to be part of the conversation.”

Young’s own views on school choice have evolved, he said.

“We don’t need to blow the system up,” he said. “We oversee charter schools, so I expanded my thought process to encompass that. It is essential that there is a competition there, but the business model of education isn’t the end-all. Its just a small sliver of the pie. I am open to choice but also to reason and logic and that parents should have all choices open to them in the decision-making process for schools and the neighborhood as a whole.”

Some of the push of the last two mayors, Bart Peterson and Greg Ballard, for charter schools was connected to concerns about Indianapolis Public Schools, but Young said the new administration is encouraged by the work of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

“IPS has struggled undoubtedly,” he said. “I think Dr. Ferebee is doing a great job in trying to turn that corner. When you have historic failures over a long period of time, it’s like moving a large ship. He is trying to put a focus on what’s best for each and every child growing up in indy.”

As far as his title goes, Ballard elevated the job of overseeing education initiatives to a deputy mayor position when he hired Kloth. Hogsett’s opponent, Chuck Brewer, specifically promised to keep the job at the deputy mayor level.

But under Hogsett, Young’s role is as a director. He said that is a non-issue.

“My role is to be out in the community talking about these education issues, leading these conversations about education,” Young said. “It’s just a title. The work is going to be the same as for Jason Kloth. Jason did a great job. It’s an honor to be in a similar club.”

enrollment woes

More students applied to Renewal high schools this year, but that won’t necessarily jolt sagging enrollment

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
August Martin High School is part of New York City's Renewal turnaround program.

High schools in New York City’s controversial turnaround program saw 1,100 more applications this year, a jump city officials touted as evidence the long-floundering schools are rising in popularity.

But overall, 3,305 students received an offer to attend a Renewal high school this year — up just 26 students from the previous year.

Education department officials said the 9 percent rise in applications over last year shows that the 20 high schools in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s expensive and controversial Renewal program are successfully turning a corner and attracting new students. The stakes are high for Renewal schools: City officials have closed or merged schools that have struggled with low enrollment.

But the rise in applications doesn’t necessarily mean those schools will have a flood of new students next year.

One reason for the gap between applications and actual offers is that more students are applying to a larger number of schools. Students can list up to 12 schools on their high school applications, and this year the city saw a 4 percentage point increase in the proportion of students who listed all 12 options. That means students are applying to more schools generally, not just ones in the Renewal program.

Another reason more applications might not yield big enrollment jumps is that students could be ranking Renewal schools lower on their list of choices, making it less likely they will receive an offer to attend.

“If someone ranks a Renewal school 11th,” said Teachers College professor Aaron Pallas, “is that really a reflection of the change in demand for that school?”

There are different ways students can receive initial offers. They can be matched with a school on their list of 12 choices. Or, if they don’t receive a match, they can be assigned to their default “zoned” neighborhood school.

About 140 more students received offers as a result of ranking them among their 12 preferred choices this year, which a department spokesman said is evidence of increased interest in Renewal high schools. But fewer students were assigned to Renewal schools after failing to receive an offer based on their list of 12 choices, which is why only 26 additional students overall were matched at Renewal high schools this year. (An official also noted that two Renewal high schools are closing, which also caused fewer offers to be issued.)

The spokesman added that the number of offers by itself is not a perfect predictor of next year’s enrollment, since students who were not matched to any schools during the initial round of applications can now apply again. (It’s also possible that some students who arrive to the city after admissions process ends could be sent to a Renewal school.)

Still, at some Renewal schools, the jump in applications has been significant, which Pallas said could suggest some schools are successfully changing their image. At Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology in the Bronx, for instance, the school received 945 applications this year — a 47 percent increase.

And at Longwood Preparatory Academy, which saw a 16 percent bump in applications, Principal Asya Johnson said the school has worked hard to market itself to families. The school changed its name, launched a new career and technical program in digital media, plastered local bodegas with fliers, and beefed up its social media presence. For the first time this year, school officials invited middle school guidance counselors across the Bronx for brunch and a tour.

“We have been doing a lot of recruitment,” she said. “We are constantly advertising ourselves.”

Below, you can find a list of each Renewal high school and a breakdown of how many applications they received this year compared with last year. (The list also includes “Rise” schools, which are being phased out of the turnaround program.)

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.