Early Childhood

City reshuffles education staff as Jason Kloth departs

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth looks on while Mayor Greg Ballard speaks at a December 2014 rally in support of his proposed preschool tuition program.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office overseeing education programs and charter schools is undergoing a transition.

Friday is the last day of work for Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth, who came in 2012 from Teach For America to the newly created position of deputy mayor for education. He’s headed to a new post focused on improving workforce development for a non-profit.

Brandon Brown, who oversaw charter schools in Kloth’s office, left earlier this month for a job as vice president of The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis non-profit that works to spur innovation and change in education.

Kristin Hines will now oversee charter school work for Ballard. Hines was an academic and policy analyst for Ballard’s charter school office who previously worked at the Indiana Department of Education. The Purdue University graduate also taught through Teach For America in Texas.

The changes come seven months after Ballard announced he would not run for re-election. Democrat Joe Hogsett and Republican Chuck Brewer are running to replace him. The election is Nov. 3.

Kloth’s next job is focused on finding ways to smooth the transition from high school to college, technical education or jobs, and to ensure students enter the workforce with the skills employers are demanding. The role is a new effort of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, a collaboration of the leaders of top companies, universities and philanthropic groups in the city.

Kloth was just 31 and working in Washington, D.C., as Teach For America’s senior vice president when Ballard tapped him as deputy mayor. The Champaign, Ill., native was sent by Teach For America to teach sixth grade in Texas near the Mexican border after graduating from the University of Illinois. Teach For America is a national organization that places recent college graduates as teachers in low-income schools nationwide for two-year stints.

Kloth came to Indianapolis in 2008 as the first local executive director when Teach For America began placing teachers here before leaving for the Washington office in 2010. Before becoming deputy mayor for education, he turned down a similar job in Chicago.

At the time, Ballard cited Kloth’s “national-level credibility” in the education reform debate.

As deputy mayor, Kloth led four key efforts: establishing a city-backed preschool tuition program, growing the mayor’s stable of charter schools, closing down troubled charter schools and helping craft laws to support the mayor’s efforts to improve schools.

The preschool program, announced last summer, was not fully approved until March after objections from City-County Council Democrats about the proposed funding method. The final plan, however, is one of Ballard’s signature accomplishments: a five-year, $40 million public-private partnership to pay preschool tuition for poor children. The city approved the first $4 million of an expected $20 million contribution this year. The rest was raised by business and philanthropic groups.

The program saw huge demand with about 5,000 applicants for 1,300 spots for the first year.

“We think there will be a substantial return on investment, especially for low-income children,” Kloth said.

On charter schools, the mayor’s office sponsored 22 at the start of Ballard’s term but will oversee 40 charter schools by 2017. The rapid expansion comes even after five mayor-sponsored charter schools closed down.

Two of those schools closed amid raucous debate.

The Project School was shut down because of academic and financial difficulties just weeks before the start of the 2012-13 school year, and Flanner House School closed last fall amid allegations that adults cheated on the state ISTEP test by changing student answers.

The others — Andrew Academy, Padua Academy and Monument Lighthouse — decided to close, merge or convert to private schools after consultation with Kloth and his team about poor test scores.

Kloth said holding charter schools accountable when they don’t live up to expectations and expanding those that do well are critical to the mayor’s charter school work.

“It’s important to ensure those who receive charters meet the promises they laid out to students, neighborhoods and the taxpayer,” he said.

Kloth also played a role in crafting new state education laws.

He worked with Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and legislators on a bill that gave the district more flexibility to partner with charter schools or other outside organizations to overhaul low-scoring schools.

He also helped push through a law that passed late in this year’s legislative session to require Marion County schools to report more data on discipline broken down by race and ethnicity in response to concerns that some groups — notably African-American boys — were routinely disciplined more harshly at some schools.

In his new role, Kloth said he hopes to find strategies to close the gap between the 54 percent of jobs in Indianapolis that require some higher education and the 47 percent of people who qualify for those jobs.

The difference results in higher poverty and a missed opportunity for the state, he said.

“This issue deserves dramatically more attention than its receiving,” he said. “How can we assure students can transition form high school with the certification they need, or to a path to technical education or a two or four year degree, so they can enter the middle class and have a meaningful career?”

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

testing testing

McQueen to convene third task force as Tennessee seeks to get testing right

PHOTO: Creative Commons/timlewisnm

For a third straight year, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will convene a task force to examine Tennessee’s testing program in the wake of persistent hiccups with its TNReady assessment and perennial concerns about over-testing.

McQueen announced Monday the members of her newest task force, which will assemble on Dec. 11 in Nashville and complete its work next July. The group includes educators, lawmakers, and parents.

At the top of the agenda: evaluating the first full year of TNReady testing for grades 3-8 and the second year for high schoolers, the latter of which was marred by scoring problems for a small percentage of students.

Five things to know about the latest brouhaha over TNReady

The group also will look at district-level “formative tests” that measure student progress to help teachers adjust their instruction throughout the school year. The goal is to support districts so those tests align with TNReady and the state’s newest academic standards.

The transition to online testing and concerns about over-testing will be on the minds of task force members.

This marks the first school year that all high schoolers will take TNReady online since 2016, when a new platform buckled on its first day. State officials are more confident this time around under a phased-in approach that began last school year with 25 districts. (Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019.)

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Candice McQueen

On over-testing, McQueen has highlighted 11th-grade as a concern. The junior year of high school is intense as students explore their post-graduation options while taking the ACT college entrance exam, the state’s end-of-course exams, and for some, Advanced Placement tests. All are high-stakes.

McQueen told Gov. Bill Haslam earlier this month that the upcoming task force will seek to strip away tests that don’t align with Tennessee’s priorities.

“We’re looking for testing reductions … but also setting a path toward (our) goals, which is a new test that’s aligned to new standards that really matter,” she told Haslam during budget hearings.

During its first two years, task force work has led to a number of changes.

Recommendations in the first year resulted in the elimination of a test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as the shortening of TNReady tests for math and reading.

In the second year, the task force contributed to Tennessee’s education plan under a new federal law and slimmed down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders.

Members of the third task force are:

  • Candice McQueen, Tennessee commissioner of education
  • Sara Morrison, executive director, State Board of Education
  • Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairwoman, Senate Education Committee
  • Rep. John Forgety, chairman, House Education Instruction and Programs Committee
  • Rep. Harry Brooks, chairman, House Education Administration and Planning Committee
  • Rep. Mark White, chairman, House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee*
  • Wayne Blair, president, Tennessee School Board Association*
  • Barbara Gray, president, Tennessee Education Association
  • Dale Lynch, executive director, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents*
  • Sharon Roberts, chief strategy officer, State Collaborative on Reforming Education*
  • Audrey Shores, chief operating officer, Professional Educators of Tennessee
  • Gini Pupo-Walker, Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition and senior director of education policy & programs, Conexión Américas*
  • Lisa Wiltshire, policy director, Tennesseans for Quality Early Education*
  • Shawn Kimble, director, Lauderdale County School System*
  • Mike Winstead, director, Maryville City Schools
  • Jennifer Cothron, assessment supervisor, Wilson County Schools*
  • Trey Duke, coordinator for Federal Programs and RTI2, Rutherford County Schools*
  • Michael Hubbard, director of performance excellence, Kingsport City Schools*
  • LaToya Pugh, iZone science instructional support manager, Shelby County Schools*
  • Bill Harlin, principal, Nolensville High School, Williamson County Schools
  • Laura Charbonnet, assistant principal, Collierville High School, Collierville Schools*
  • Tim Childers, assistant principal, L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools*
  • Kevin Cline, assistant principal, Jefferson County High School, Jefferson County Schools*
  • Kim Herring, teacher, Cumberland County High School, Cumberland County School District*
  • Jolinea Pegues, special education teacher, Southwind High School, Shelby County Schools*
  • Stacey Travis, teacher, Maryville High School, Maryville City Schools*
  • Josh Rutherford, teacher, Houston County High School, Houston County School District*
  • Cicely Woodard, 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, West End Middle Prep, Metro Nashville Public Schools*
  • Virginia Babb, parent, Knox County Parent-Teacher Association
  • Jennifer Frazier, parent, Hamblen County Department of Education*
  • Student members will be invited*

*new members