restart?

Three IPS schools put on notice: schools could be ‘restarted,’ teachers made to reapply

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 63

Three more struggling Indianapolis Public Schools have been officially put on notice: They could be “restarted” next year and all of their teachers could be forced to reapply for their jobs.

School 42, School 63 and John Marshall Middle School were all named by the district as candidates for conversion to “innovation” status following years of low test scores.

That means the school’s teachers would no longer be represented by the IPS union and their principals would be given more flexibility over curriculum, school hours and budgets. The schools would be run independently from the district but, unlike charter schools, would still be responsible to the school board.

The three schools named today are the latest to face possible conversion as part of a district effort to improve chronically failing schools.

Already, three failing schools converted to innovation status over the last two years, but there is not yet much evidence of whether the approach will achieve the lofty aim of fixing failing schools. Leaders have enough faith in the strategy, however, that they are pursuing plans to continue restarting schools.

In addition to restarting schools, the district has also allowed two successful schools to convert to innovation status and several charter schools have joined the network.

The IPS board plans to discuss these latest innovation conversions this week and will make a final decision early next year, according to Aleesia Johnson, who leads innovation schools for the district.

All three schools facing restart have been on the district’s radar for several years. School 42, a north side elementary school, is an IPS “priority” school, which receives extra attention and training from the district, and School 63, a west side elementary school, is part of the “transformation zone,” a state funded program that aims to improve district high schools and the elementary schools that feed into them.

John Marshall is also a priority school. Test scores at the east side school have been dismal for several years and a group of parents called for the district to improve the school in June. If the board converts the school to innovation status, it would be part of a larger transition because the district already plans to reconstitute the school, which currently serves grades 7-12, as a middle school as part of a plan approved by the board in August.

The schools are up for restart because they each have three or more years of failing grades on the state accountability system, a benchmark set by the IPS board. (Four other low-scoring middle schools in the district are eligible for restart, but those schools were already set to be closed as part of the middle school reconfiguration.)

At John Marshall, School 42 and School 63, district leaders will look more closely at other measures of school quality, including whether students are showing improvement on state exams, before making their final recommendations to the board in January, according to Johnson.

Because the schools have had several years of failing grades, the Indiana State Board of Education will also be monitoring the plan for improving them, Johnson said.

“We are trying to make sure we have a strong plan that we believe … the state board will be in support of us implementing,” she said.

At the schools that could be restarted, the district has already begun to hold meetings with teachers and parents to discuss the schools’ future.

If the board decides to convert the schools to innovation schools, the next step will be choosing partners to take over management.

Johnson said the district hasn’t selected partners. But there are a few clear possibilities. Earl Phalen, who runs a charter network that manages two innovation elementary schools, has said in the past that the network plans to open a middle school on the east side at John Marshall or another campus.

There also are two planned schools that are possible candidates to take over schools 42 and 63: The leaders of Paramount School of Excellence charter school are aiming to start a second campus as an innovation school. And, a planned charter school called Ignite Achievement Academy presented to the IPS board in November. Both schools received planning grants from the Mind Trust, a nonprofit that offers fellowships for leaders to plan innovation schools.

moving on up

Jeffco on track to move most of next year’s sixth-graders into middle school buildings

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools is moving forward with plans to put the majority of its sixth-graders in middle schools instead of elementary schools starting next fall, a shift district officials say will both better utilize building space and ease what can be a rough transition for kids.

The change, announced more than a year ago, will bring the state’s second largest school district into alignment with how most Colorado districts split up elementary and middle school.

Jeffco will continue to operate models that break that mold, including longstanding K-8 schools and a newer experiment with 7th through 12th grade schools officials say has shown promise.

Some critics continue to voice concerns about the plan, including questioning the cost and comparing that to what they say will result in a questionable benefit for students’ educations. District officials, however, say parents are getting their questions answered and educators are hearing fewer concerns than before.

The issue has come up at forums for school board candidates running this fall, and Jeffco staff last week at a regular board meeting updated the school board.

Marcia Anker, who started in July as the district’s sixth grade transition coordinator, said that some Jeffco schools individually started asking to make the change more than 10 years ago. Some individual middle schools had already been allowed to start enrolling sixth graders.

District officials say they estimate 3,355 students due to be sixth graders next year will be attending a middle school in 2018-19 instead of staying in an elementary school.

Many of the players involved in the initial discussions to move sixth grade out of elementary schools aren’t in the district anymore, including former superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Current district leaders say it was a conversation that began with district officials who oversee use of buildings, but that the decision wasn’t driven by building concerns.

Still, building use is a factor. Tim Reed, executive director of Jeffco facilities said middle school buildings in Jeffco were designed to hold three grade levels and have been underutilized.

“I think the conversation has always been about what’s best for students,” Reed said. “There was a recognition that there was significant underutilization in our middle school buildings. This was a way to accomplish two things including to better utilize middle schools.”

National research on middle school grade configurations has not been keen on sixth through eighth grade models. One study comparing students in sixth through eighth grade schools to students in schools that are K-8 schools found that student test scores weren’t different, but found more negative perceptions among students in traditional middle schools.

Jeffco board members and staff who have touted the benefits that sixth graders will see in a middle school point out that students will get a chance to start exploring their career interests with elective classes and have more time to develop relationships with staff in the middle schools.

Karen Quanbeck, interim chief school effectiveness officer and a previous middle school principal in the district, said at last week’s board meeting that two years with students is not enough.

“It seems like you’re welcoming them and in the blink of an eye you’re sending them off to high school,” Quanbeck said.

But some schools will need to continue with the seventh and eighth grade model for at least one more year. Because the empty middle school seats aren’t evenly spread throughout the district, some schools will require expansions to make room for new sixth graders.

The school board has already approved the funding to build a $10 million addition to Drake Middle School and a $4.5 million addition to Dunstan Middle School to accommodate the changes. Another $2 million in reserves will be used to make minor fixes at five other schools.

Three schools — Ken Caryl, Creighton and Summit Ridge — will delay their transition to the new model because the district estimates it needs to find another $15.5 million to add eight classrooms to each school.

Two years ago, in a bid to help lift student achievement, the district merged some schools to create two seventh-through-12 schools: Alameda and Jefferson junior and senior high schools. Those schools will retain that model.

Principals at those schools say they are seeing small benefits from the change. Though the neighborhoods are traditionally higher in poverty and mobility, Anker said that principals tell her students are staying in the school at a higher rate than before.

Still, Anker said one model is not better than another.

“Matriculation models that offer the fewest transitions are what benefits kids,” Anker said.

While there may be some benefits to having every Jeffco middle school offer the same grades — for instance, so parents choosing different schools across the district have consistency — the cost of doing that would also be prohibitive, Anker said.

“We also value the differences in our communities,” Anker said.

The district in the coming months will need to find a way to fund the remaining middle school expansions. Officials also will help some sought-after schools decide if they will cut down the number of seventh and eighth graders they enroll, or ask for help to build out space as well.

vegetarian options

Want your Brooklyn school to go meatless on Mondays? Here’s your chance.

PHOTO: Helen Richardson, The Denver Post

Goodbye, ground beef and popcorn chicken. Hello, crispy tofu and roasted chickpea tagine.

Starting next spring, 15 Brooklyn schools will begin “meatless Mondays” — an effort to make school lunches and breakfasts a little healthier and friendlier to the environment, officials said Monday.

The city has not yet picked the schools that will participate in the pilot program, and an education spokeswoman said the city will make decisions based on interest and public input. (Whether the city is prepared for a barrage of requests from health-minded Park Slope parents is another matter.)

The announcement comes less than two months after city officials made lunch free for all students regardless of income. Monday’s press conference was held at Brooklyn’s P.S. 1 — one of three district schools that only serves vegetarian fare — and drew Mayor Bill de Blasio, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“Cutting back a little on meat will help make our city healthier and our planet stronger for generations to come,” de Blasio said in a statement, adding that meat will no longer be served at Gracie Mansion on Mondays.

You can read more about the program here.