IPS board to Ferebee: Bring us a reform-driven strategic plan

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
The Indianapolis Public School Board held a press conference tonight to announce new "core beliefs."

It might seem obvious, but the Indianapolis Public School Board made it official, again, tonight: it expects schools to have more freedom but to be held to high expectations or face consequences.

That’s pretty much what the board members all promised when they were running for office last year or in 2012.

Tonight’s vote directed Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to create a strategic plan that gives school principals more authority to make decisions, allow schools more control over their budgets and diminishes the influence of central office administrators.

Those are the board’s “core beliefs,” board members told Ferebee.

“Dr. Ferebee needs to understand what our expectations are and produce a strategic plan that meets those expectations,” board member Mary Ann Sullivan said. “If there’s something in there that is inconsistent, it’s not a strategic plan that we’re going to sign off on.”

Sullivan described what she called “radical language” from the board that will dictate a district structure of more than 60 schools as “a system of autonomous schools that are held accountable to clear performance metrics.”

Ferebee said he agreed with the approach.

(Read more: Read the school board’s document here)

Even so, it was unclear at today’s briefing how the board’s vote would actually change the district’s decision-making process.

“Is this considered policy of the board or just some feel-goody statement?” asked Amos Brown, who hosts the Amos in the Afternoons radio show on WTLC.

Board member Caitlin Hannon said the policy specifics will come later but she said the board would check itself against its statement of values as it makes future decisions.

“What I really hope is we’re held accountable for these,” Hannon said. “I might kick myself later for saying that.”

Brown also asked why the board crafted such a critical guiding philosophy without gathering public feedback before voting to adopt it.

“You are telling the public tonight … about all these great words about openness and whatever, but the first the public will see this is after you vote on it this evening,” Brown said.

That’s what the last two elections were about, Hannon said.

“I did that for the year and a half that I ran,” said Hannon, who was elected in 2012.

The board’s three newest members — Sullivan, LaNier Echols and Kelly Bentley — last year all promised more school autonomy and choice before defeating by large margins former board members who sometimes questioned that approach.

Sullivan said the public will be able to influence the debate by getting involved as the board builds a strategic plan.

“We never even talked about soliciting input because that wasn’t the purpose of this,” Sullivan said. “We have plenty of opportunities to get public input on everything we do.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.