Fresh Start

Incoming principal at troubled school invokes neighborhood roots, promises ‘new day’

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Principal Bakari Posey walked the streets around School 43.

Walking the streets around School 43, Bakari Posey passes the corner where his father used to work as a counselor. He points toward Tarkington Park, where he played basketball as a child.

“I grew up in this community,” said Posey, who is the latest principal to take the helm of the troubled school.

School 43 has been plagued by unstable leadership, out of control students and low test scores. The school’s history has made parents wary of yet another principal showing up, promising improvements.

But Posey’s personal connection to the neighborhood is part of his pitch to frustrated parents. It’s a reason to believe that despite all the troubles at the school, he is here to stay.

“I’m putting my all into this because my reputation is on the line,” said Posey, who left an assistant principal position at Tindley Accelerated Schools charter network to join Indianapolis Public Schools.

Both of Posey’s parents are Indianapolis educators, and although he attended Catholic school, he had cousins and childhood playmates who went to School 43.

Brenda Vance Paschal introduced principal Bakari Posey to families in the neighborhood.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Brenda Vance Paschal introduced principal Bakari Posey to families in the neighborhood.

Last Saturday, on a day when the temperature approached 95 degrees and the glaring sunshine baked heat into the pavement, Posey walked the blocks around the school with Brenda Vance Paschal, a longtime resident and member of neighborhood association. The pair passed out flyers for the school’s start-of-the-year bash Saturday 12 to 4pm — and introduced Posey to the community.

“I think he will bring new life into the community,” Paschal said. “He’s from the area. He’s gonna stay.”

Most of the houses were quiet, but several businesses let Posey post flyers. A barbershop down the street offered his staff a deal on haircuts. A mother whose child is too young for school agreed to hang an invite to the school’s carnival in her apartment building.

Finally, after an hour of visiting businesses and putting flyers in mailboxes, a mother stepped out onto her stoop to meet the new principal.

Syreta Thomas lives just down the street from the school and her two children were enrolled in there until last year when she became so frustrated with the administration that she pulled them out and put them in a charter school.

Thomas said her son has learning disabilities and she felt he wasn’t getting the extra help he needed. But one of her biggest problems with the school was the culture — teachers would tell her son that he’s a “bad kid” and principals came and went, Thomas said.

She had a simple question for Posey: “Are you sticking around?”

Bakari Posey discussed the future of School 43 with Syreta Thomas, who pulled her children out of the school last year.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Bakari Posey discussed the future of School 43 with Syreta Thomas, who pulled her children out of the school last year.

Thomas is not the only parent who has left School 43 as it has struggled in recent years.

Part of Posey’s challenge as a principal will be not only winning the trust of parents who are still at the school but also winning back parents like Thomas.

“It’s a new day,” he told Thomas. “I’m working on a mindset shift for my staff.”

Standing on her stoop, Posey listened to her concerns with the school and promised that he’s here to stay, and that the school will be different.

Posey sees the frustration that parents have with the school. Discipline problems have knocked the school off track, and some kids have lost years of learning time.

“It sucks,” Posey said. “That makes me angry and sad at the same time.”

But he is also convinced that the school can turnaround.

As principal, he is going to be rolling out a new school culture strategy called Tribes Learning Community, that is used and liked by other IPS schools. It’s a model that emphasizes respect among teachers and students, one of biggest goals Posey has for the school. Respect needs to start with teachers, so they can model behavior for kids, he said.

If teachers are angry or yell at students, even the kids that are not causing trouble will lose respect for them, he said.

As an assistant principal at Tindley, Posey was charged with enforcing the charter school’s strict discipline policies. But Posey said his own philosophy is more moderate. Elementary school teachers should give students quick redirections if they are getting off task or distracting the class, he said.

For more severe issues, the school has six staffers who can help with discipline issues, including a social worker, a school counselor and four staffers dedicated to helping students with behavior problems, Posey said. Those staffers can help in class if a teacher is struggling, so instead of sending a misbehaving student to the office, the teacher can take the time to go into the hall with the child and discuss the problem.

“Now that kid doesn’t feel admonished, that kid doesn’t feel embarrassed,” Posey said. “They still feel connected to the teacher.”

call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

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.