Future of Schools

Merging with John Marshall is IPS' top choice for Arlington's future

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

If it was up to Indianapolis Public Schools, the district would opt to merge John Marshall and Arlington high schools for the 2015-16 school year.

The idea was presented as Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s favorite of three options he presented to an Indiana State Board of Education committee for what to do with Arlington High School next year. The school was taken over by the state in 2012 after six straight years of F grades for poor test scores but Tindley Schools, a charter school network brought in to run the school, said this summer it wants out of managing the school.

Ferebee said the best solution is to give IPS control over Arlington again, arguing a merger with John Marshall was an opportunity to offer students improved learning opportunities and better use the district’s building space.

“We believe (merging) provides a win for both John Marshall and Arlington communities,” Ferebee said. “And we believe that this particular option also provides greater consistency for students.”

Although Tindley and IPS worked out a deal for the 2014-15 school year, Tindley has said it cannot afford to keep running Arlington. State board members were surprised no one from Tindley attended the meeting, saying they had hoped to hear ideas from the network for transitioning Arlington to new management.

A network official said that was not the right role for Tindley to play.

“Until the state board decides how to transition Arlington High School, any predictions from Tindley on how a transition might work are premature,” spokeswoman Bev Rella said in a statement.

Merging the East side high schools would allow Arlington to grow its enrollment enough to better support the costs of its building, Ferebee said. Arlington today serves about 300 students, and adding John Marshall’s roughly 1,100 students would bring the school closer to its 2,000-student capacity.

John Marshall’s building, Ferebee said, was originally designed as a middle school and can’t offer students the amenities the more recently renovated Arlington could. If merged, the school likely would still serve grades seven through 12.

John Marshall has had similarly poor academic performance but narrowly avoided state takeover in 2012. Instead, the school was assigned a “lead partner,” or an outside group support the improvement efforts of the principal and staff.

But community members were surprised when the option to close John Marshall was suggested last month. Some said the transition would be too difficult for students and asked for more time for a new principal to make changes.

The details of the other suggested plans, which don’t involve closing John Marshall, are as follows:

  • Use a new law, created earlier this year by House Bill 1321, to encourage charter schools to partner with IPS to run the school. The goal would be for the new operator to attract at least 700 students to Arlington for 2015-16. This plan would likely remove Arlington from state takeover.
  • Close Arlington in 2015-16, sending students to other schools with an invitation to transfer back when it re-opens in 2016-17, possibly with a different grade configuration than seventh through 12th that it serves today.

Merging is also preferred, Ferebee said, because it helps IPS better estimate the future enrollment of the school, making financial planning easier and more stable.

Charter Schools USA, a charter network that already runs three schools in IPS, said it would consider taking over management of Arlington.

“If it’s better to work this through with IPS, we would support that as well and get right behind that,” said John Hage, CEO of CSUSA. “It’s not for us to say what’s in the best interest of those students. We would want to have the right to earn that.”

One key question from board member Tony Walker, an attorney from Gary, was about what happens to turnaround schools after their contracts with the outside operators end. What processes are in place to make sure schools keep progressing, and how do those ideas spread throughout the rest of the district?

Perhaps, he said, the state should consider changing the law to allow the state to take over entire school districts?

“We’re running into a situation where this group now that has made progress in those schools is going to leave, and there’s nothing in place to capture the progress,” Walker said. “So I think we need some changes in the law immediately for the state board to be able to put an exit strategy or transition in place whereby IPS or Gary Community School Corporation actually gets to benefit from what’s been done over the turnaround process.”

Carole Craig, education chairwoman of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, said no matter what the district and state decide to do, the Arlington and John Marshall communities need to be involved.

“We care so much about our community, and we also, as professionals with our organizations, understand when you have urban districts, the families care so much, but they don’t have the social capital and resources to come forward as much as people would like,” Craig said. “Sometimes people interpret that as that they don’t care, but that is absolutely not true.”

The board has plans to discuss Arlington and its turnaround options at its October 15 meeting.

Making a decision sooner is better than waiting, Ferebee said.

“I think it’s great we’re having this conversation in October because that gives us an enormous amount of time to implement that planning process,” Ferebee said. “We can build relationships with students and plan transitional activities between now and the end of the year so that when school starts in August, students don’t miss a beat.”

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.


Up next for the PEP: Five mergers, one missing member, and a snow delay

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Teacher Aixa Rodriguez speaks at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in 2016.

As a winter storm bears down on New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has canceled school — which means the city’s oversight panel’s meeting slated for Wednesday is off, too.

The Panel for Educational Policy’s meeting hasn’t been rescheduled, but when its members do meet, they will have to decide whether to OK a new set of school mergers. It’s likely to be less contentious than last month’s meeting, when the Panel for Educational Policy voted down two of the education department’s school closure proposals and delayed a third in a rare rebuke.

This time around, there are no school closures on the agenda. But there may still be reverberations from last month’s meeting.

Soon after that meeting, T. Elzora Cleveland, a mayoral appointee to the panel and who cast a deciding vote to block two of the closures, resigned. And there are still open questions about how the panel will approach future education department proposals. Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

Who will serve on the oversight board going forward?

After casting a deciding vote blocking two of the education department’s closure proposals, Cleveland resigned from the board. Her resignation raised questions about whether City Hall had lost patience with her dissent and urged her to step down, but it also leaves the 13-person panel with one fewer member.

On Tuesday, City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said the mayor had not yet chosen a replacement. “We are actively working to appoint a new panel member,” she wrote in an email.

Lapeyrolerie declined to comment on when the mayor would make an appointment, which will give the administration a smaller margin of error until the seat is filled

Will the panel continue to push back against the administration’s proposals?

Since eight of the board’s 13 members are appointed by de Blasio, the panel has generally approved proposals submitted by the education department, which the mayor also controls. Last month was a notable exception. Though the panel approved 10 school closures at that meeting — the largest single wave since de Blasio took office — it blocked three others after more than eight hours of impassioned testimony from lawmakers and families.

With a smaller number of mayoral appointees currently seated on the board, it could be slightly easier to block the education department’s proposals. Without Cleveland, the panel currently has just 12 members— so just one dissenting mayoral appointee could block a proposal if the other five panel members vote as a bloc.

But now that the largest wave of closures this year has passed, it’s unlikely that the panel will face as many contentious votes before the mayor appoints a new member to the oversight panel.

Could the current slate of school mergers generate similar backlash?

The education department’s plans include five mergers, where one school’s teachers and students are absorbed into another. Two of the plans involve schools in the mayor’s controversial and expensive Renewal turnaround program for struggling schools. In many of those cases, city officials have argued mergers are needed where schools have become too small to sustain enough teachers and programming to provide students a rich experience, as funding is allocated partly based on enrollment.

Though less contentious than closures, mergers can still spark fierce resistance from school communities. And the education department’s plan to merge Longwood Preparatory Academy and Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research and add a Success Academy charter middle school to the building has already prompted outcry from some advocates, educators, and students.

“Hundreds of parents, students and teachers protested the new wave of school closings at the February 28 PEP meeting,” Bronx Power, an organization that has criticized school closures, wrote in a statement announcing a protest of the Longwood Prep merger. “Although most of the schools were closed as proposed, momentum is building to stop this new de Blasio policy.”

Whatever the outcome, the upcoming meeting won’t offer members of the public an opportunity to address schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who is expected to step down April 2. Before the meeting was canceled, Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson was set to attend in Fariña’s place.

You can find the full list of the education department’s proposals here.