Who Is In Charge

Indiana State Board of Education in limbo after legislature's move

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education will hold its March meeting Wednesday.

Gov. Mike Pence made a bold call in December for big changes he said would “restore harmony” to the contentious Indiana State Board of Education, but did he get what he wanted?

A centerpiece of his plan to refocus the board, which he mostly selected, was to clear the way for a new chair, stripping state Superintendent Glenda Ritz of her guaranteed place in that seat.

He got it — sort of.

But the bigger and more immediate change is not something Pence asked for. And it’s not clear he’s entirely comfortable with it either.

If Pence signs Senate Bill 1, it will bring Indiana to a rare moment that will see 10 appointments to the state board happen all at once, rather than in smaller sets of appointments every two years.

The bill does let the board select someone other than Ritz as its leader as Pence wanted, but that change won’t come until after the 2016 election. So, for now, Ritz remains the chairwoman.

But in less than a month, other changes in the bill could theoretically replace all of the 10 appointed board members. Some will likely return but almost certainly not all of them.

That’s because, this time, Pence won’t get exclusive say as to who they will be.

Senate Bill 1 diminishes Pence’s power to appoint the state board, giving two of the 10 appointments to legislative leaders — House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long. So he loses a not insignificant 20 percent of his appointments to the board.

Pence didn’t exactly praise that change when he met with reporters last week, but he wasn’t critical of the bill either.

“We’re currently reviewing that legislation,” he said. “There were a lot of moving parts late in that bill.”

Even so, he did list it among his legislative agenda items that were accomplished, noting that Indiana would join 48 other states that do not automatically make the state superintendent also the state board chair.

His office declined to say anything more about Senate Bill 1 today except that Pence will decide which bills he will sign before he leaves for China on Saturday.

The state board situation is so unusual, and unfolding so quickly, that even the current members don’t know their fates.

Last week, three of Pence’s appointees — David Freitas, Gordon Hendry and Brad Oliver — made the unusual move of issuing a statement asking to be reappointed.

“There have been significant changes made in education policy in Indiana in recent years that have been challenging at times to work through as a Board. At the end of the day, we’ve crafted and implemented policies that have moved Hoosier schools in the right direction for our kids,” they wrote.

Oliver said today he did not want to comment further until the governor acts.

Of the 10 appointees on the board today, five were chosen by Pence: college professors Freitas, of Indiana University South Bend, and Oliver, of Indiana Weslyean University; Hendry, a former Indianapolis deputy mayor; Henryville High School Principal Troy Albert; and Andrea Neal, a private school teacher and former Indianapolis Star editorial writer.

The other five all were first appointed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and later reappointed by Pence: Avon teacher Sarah O’Brien; Huntington teacher Cari Whicker; Marian University President Dan Elsener; Gary attorney Tony Walker; and B.J. Watts, a teacher in Evansville.

That group has struggled to work with Ritz over the past two years.

In particular, Elsener, Oliver, Freitas, Hendry and O’Brien have routinely criticized Ritz as a poor leader and the Indiana Department of Education’s work as sometimes sub-par.

Ritz has been deeply critical of Pence and the hired staff that serves the state board, arguing they have worked to purposefully undermine her authority.

The effort to strip Ritz of her role as state board chair prompted a statehouse rally by her supporters earlier this year on the same day the Indiana House passed a bill aimed at limiting her powers.

While she retains her role as chairwoman through 2016, the legislature took other steps last week by passing bills that will reduce what had been her exclusive authority over aspects of A-to-F grading, state testing and student data.

Ritz even said last week she is so frustrated by the changes passed by the legislature and backed by Pence that she is considering challenging him for governor. That decision, she said, would be made by June.

The state board meets this week on Thursday.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: