State poised to pick Denver company to help John Marshall, Broad Ripple high schools

A Denver company with experience helping troubled schools completely redefine how they approach teaching will be proposed Wednesday to be the new “lead partner” for Indianapolis’ John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools.

Marzano Research Laboratories has a plan to improve the schools and might end up with more power over the teaching staff than the school’s prior lead partner.

The Indiana State Board of Education has played a role in managing both schools since they reached six straight years of F grades for low test scores, but they managed to avoid the stiffer penalty of state takeover that was the fate of four other Indianapolis Public Schools.

In state takeover, schools are severed from district control and handed off to be managed by outside groups. Lead partners are a lesser sanction, under which outside companies act as consultants to help guide turnaround efforts, but the district continues to manage the school.

Lead partners have not always gone well. IPS earlier this year asked the state board to drop lead partners so it could manage the two schools with its own improvement plan. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee later balked at the state’s plan for lead partners at the two schools, which he thought gave the partners too much power. That led The New Teacher Project to back out of the plan, prompting a search for a new partner.

Marzano was founded in 2008 and is based in Denver. Its CEO, Robert Marzano, is an expert in “competency-based” teaching, which focuses less on what is taught at each grade level to advance students to more challenging work as they demonstrate mastery. In Colorado, for example, Marzano played a role in a Colorado school district’s decision to drop traditional K-to-12 grades as part of a wider effort to turnaround its low-scoring schools. The district was praised earlier this year for the dramatic improvement of those schools.

The company’s lead partner proposal doesn’t suggest such radical changes for Marshall and Broad Ripple. The group submitted a three-step plan to the board, detailing how it will identify weaknesses in instruction, make steps toward improvement and carry out continued communication with the schools and the district throughout the course of the partnership. The proposals for each high school total $149,500 so far.

The three steps include:

  • Improving teaching: Marzano offered to create a model for teachers to talk about teaching and how to make it better. Although they will collaborate about how to use the model, Marzano would have the ability to choose “non-negotiable strategies” that the schools must use. Then teachers who learn the model can teach it to their colleagues and give feedback for a final draft.
  • Auditing instruction: Marzano would survey teachers and students about their perception of teaching quality in the school and observe classes to develop individual teacher profiles to show where teachers’ strengths and weaknesses are.
  • Evaluation: The group would track data from the whole process to see the impact of the partnership.

IPS and The New Teacher Project failed to forge a partnership after a debate in September over who would have control and be held accountable for student performance. The group said it didn’t want to work with a school that didn’t share its vision for how to improve test scores.

Ferebee at the time said the district wanted more control over instruction at its schools, as IPS would ultimately be held accountable for improvements. The disagreement and subsequent dissolution of the partnership prompted the board to ask the department of education to go back through the original applicants to find a new partner.

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

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