Dozens of angry staff and family members of students from a Near Westside school spoke out at the Indianapolis Schools Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.
Some begged board members to deny a proposal slated for discussion Thursday that would remove leaders at the F-rated Stephen Foster School 67 and replace them with an independent management group or charter school operator to run the school starting in the 2020-21 academic year. A restart could also force teachers, custodians and other staff to be replaced.
IPS leaders did not discuss the plan or comment about it during Tuesday’s meeting. They are scheduled to ask the seven-member board Thursday to consider the so-called “innovation restart” model for School 67 and Louis B. Russell Jr. School 48. A vote could happen in the next few months.
The two schools are among 11 the district identified for its quality review -- an evaluation that uses test scores, parent surveys, school culture assessments, teacher effectiveness and other measurements to decide if a school should be restated.
School 67 and School 48 struggled academically for years, as rated by the state’s A-F accountability system.
In 2018, the Fall Creek neighborhood School 48 earned its fifth consecutive F. Six consecutive failing grades is a trigger point for state takeover. Enrollment at the PreK-6 school dropped by 29 percent since 2015-16, to 290 students this year. Seventy-five percent of the students are black and 80 percent of all students qualify for free meals, based on family income.
The Near Westside School 67 earned its second consecutive F in 2018, after four consecutive D grades. Seventh grade was added to the school in 2017 and eighth grade followed in 2018. Now, 60 percent of the 602 students in grades K-8 are Hispanic. Nearly 75 percent of the students qualify for free meals. The school also has the 25th highest rate of English language learner students in the state, at 45 percent. The state average is 6.4 percent.
School 67 teachers say a school improvement plan, approved by the Indiana Department of Education last year, shows academic improvements. Instructional coach Bethany Herring reported reading data from the NWEA exam, which the district uses to evaluate student learning.
“As a school, seven of our classrooms received over 100 percent of their projected growth points,” she said about students’ learning compared from the previous year. “With the strength of our data, we project that we are on track to meet the goals set forth in our school improvement plan. We are not failing our students.”
IPS leaders want to remove the principals and some staff at both schools and replace them with independent managers or charter school operators. The so-called “innovation restart” has been used at other IPS schools, such as the Far Eastside Francis Scott Key School 103, operated by Phalen Leadership Academies since 2015.
In the past, IPS leaders have said they chose the innovation restart method to try and turnaround a school because they believe other options failed.
Innovation schools are managed by outside groups, mostly charter operators. In exchange for the agreement, IPS is credited with the schools’ academic scores and enrollment. Teachers at the schools are not included in the district’s union contract.
Meredith Brooks, a social worker at School 67, says some students bounce between living locations, and others experience trauma, like homelessness and witnessing domestic violence.
“They need consistency and strong relationships in their lives,” she said. “So why are we now outsourcing the education and care of these children.”
Some School 67 parents agree the removal of familiar teachers would harm the students. Parent Christina Brown says the school is a family for her four children. Two of her children have disabilities and the teachers helped them grow academically and emotionally, she said as she choked back tears.
“Don’t do it. Don’t remove the staff. Do not take them away. Because they are keeping my children together,” Brown said. “Don’t do it. You will be saving my children and a lot of other children in that school."
Another 67 parent, Angela Cordova says the IPS administration is at fault if they believe the school needs to be restarted.
“Your system is to blame -- not my teachers. Not my kids. Not me. Maybe you should fix your system," she told the board.
An IPS spokesperson declined to comment. The school board will take up the issue at its regular meeting Thursday.