Casual Sunday IPS board meeting or 'travesty' of public access?

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
IPS board members talk at a public work session.

It was supposed to be a different kind of meeting for the Indianapolis Public School Board — a casual Sunday afternoon work session for the board to hash out a shared vision for the ‘school autonomy’ it has promised.

Casual it was — board members at times joked around and a sweatshirt-clad Superintendent Lewis Ferebee helped them set up before promptly leaving — but the meeting didn’t go as planned.

Because they met without staff, the board’s secretary wasn’t there to take her usual notes. So board members decided a reporter’s recording could suffice as a substitute. And without the microphones they normally use, some of the 15 or so people who attended complained that they couldn’t hear. In the audience were representatives from the teachers union and a union that represents maintenance workers.

The issues didn’t stop there.

Despite a warning from board president Diane Arnold that board members would not be taking questions or comments from the audience, one person yelled out his own ideas as the board tried to craft a vision statement.

Radio host Amos Brown of WTLC’s Amos in the Afternoons tweeted that the meeting was “disrespectful to the public” because audience members couldn’t hear board members.

“None of us can hear a word IPS Board members saying,” Brown tweeted under the handle @AmosWTLCIndy. “Travesty of (a) public meeting.”

Those concerns resulted in a back-and-forth between board members Gayle Cosby and Kelly Bentley. Cosby asked if the board should try to figure out a way to hook up a microphone so the audience could hear better. Bentley said the public could move their chairs up if they couldn’t hear the conversation.

There was also tension between board members about how the meeting would be reported.

“Did you just say you hope people aren’t blogging about this?” Cosby, who recently started a blog about school board issues, asked Bentley.

Bentley said she didn’t mean that.

“I hope people (who) are writing about this are fair because we’re just trying to have a conversation,” Bentley said.

Board members have made it clear they want principals to have more control of decisions about their schools. But how far that authority should extend is the question. Board members debated whether principals should have control over decisions like the budget, hiring, school calendars, building maintenance and more. No final decisions were made.

There was also discussion, however, of scrapping the board’s new principal selection process.

Cosby said the board should keep in place the process it approved last year designed to give school communities more of a say in picking principals. But Bentley and board member Caitlin Hannon said that makes it difficult to hold Ferebee accountable for the school’s performance. The community should be involved in other ways, they said.

And board members said they want teachers to have more control over curriculum and what happens in their classrooms.

Most board members said teachers face too many barriers to deliver lessons as they see fit. Instead, they said, teachers are held to strict guides that dictate what is taught and when. That takes the creativity out of teaching, board members said.

Board member Mary Ann Sullivan said the board should instead seek to limit the frequent student transfers that prompted those teaching guides.

“I think we’re trying to solve the wrong end of the problem,” Sullivan said.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”