IPS leaders face pushback on plan to overhaul teacher pay, promotion

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Union leaders and fellow board members questioned a plan for overhauling teacher pay proposed by board member Caitlin Hannon at Tuesday's meeting.

A major overhaul of how Indianapolis Public Schools evaluates, pays, and promotes teachers hit a snag today when some board members, and the teachers union, expressed concerns about the district’s plan to hire consultants to do part of that work.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee first announced at a board retreat in late May that the district might spend $2.35 million to work with three groups over the next two years to help it roll out “Project Elevate,” an initiative to boost teaching in Indianapolis.

The district wants private funders to cover much of the costs, but Ferebee asked the school board to allocate $274,000 in public funds to kick off the work this summer.

That request encountered some opposition at Tuesday’s board’s meeting.

IPS teachers union president Rhondalyn Cornett and some board members said they were uncomfortable with the fact that IPS chose the organizations it wants to work with before putting out an open call for vendors. They argued that a public bid process of the type that the district typically uses when hiring outside vendors would ensure that IPS is fully transparent — and gets the best deal.

“I would have liked a more transparent process in terms of vetting people that we are giving millions of dollars to,” board member Gayle Cosby said. “I need to point out that a couple weeks ago I submitted an email to the entire board suggesting we … give other vendors a chance.”

The plans for Project Elevate — which would cause changes at up to two dozen schools by 2016 — call for IPS to contract with three nonprofits: IUPUI, Education Resource Strategies, and Public Impact.

Public Impact, based out of North Carolina, would help IPS identify high-performing teachers so that they can be paid to extend their reach, according to the plans. The group has played a role in local education policy in the past, issuing a scathing review of IPS’s internal operations in 2011 as part of a collaboration with The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis advocacy group.

Boston-based Education Resource Strategies would work with the district to map out existing resources and come up with a plan to reallocate dollars from the central office to the classroom. Board member Caitlin Hannon said the work is necessary if IPS wants to give teachers pay raises.

But the teachers union argued Hannon’s position as executive director of TeachPlus, a group that has worked with Education Resource Strategies, is a conflict of interest. Hannon, who has worked with district officials to shepherd the Project Elevate plan through to the board, recently worked with Education Resource Strategies on an event that brought 100 IPS teachers together to discuss pay structure issues.

“It makes me suspicious of the reason why this company was selected,” Cornett said at the meeting. She said the relationship between Hannon and ERS suggested that the board’s “toes are getting very close” to ethical lines.

Noting that no contracts are yet in place, Hannon said she would support sending out a request for proposals for the work that was initially proposed for ERS and Public Impact.

“If there are concerns about partners, we could do an RFP for phase two and phase three,” she said. “That’s certainly an option.”

After the meeting, Hannon emphasized that TeachPlus receives no benefit, financial or otherwise, from IPS contracting with the two organizations.

“I don’t have any financial relationship with ERS and I would not benefit directly or indirectly from their work,” she said. “My hope is simply that their work would benefit teachers and students, which is what excites me most about Elevate: the opportunity to focus our resources where they matter the most.”

Ferebee said he was surprised by board members’ concerns with the Project Elevate contractors. He said he appreciated the desire for transparency but emphasized that the district must start tackling its pay structure now if it is to prepare for formal contract talks with the teachers union, set to begin Aug. 1.

“You’d like to do it soon rather than later, but I understand the board’s perspective on making sure that you explore all options,” Ferebee said. Still, he added, “If we don’t get a provider before August first, we’re still going to go into the negotiation process.”

At the very least, Ferebee urged, the board should at its next meeting sign off on hiring IUPUI to draw up a new teacher assessment tool to be used in evaluations.

“It is so important that we address our performance management,” said Ferebee, who noted that IUPUI has worked successfully with the district in the past. “We’ve gotten feedback that teachers are not receiving proper feedback from administrators as it relates to evaluations and observations. We know that compensation is tied to our evaluation instrument.”

Board member Diane Arnold said it would be a mistake to approve only a “fragment” of Project Elevate, rather than the whole plan. “It’s imperative we begin to move on this,” she said. “What hasn’t worked in the past needs to be changed.”

That argument did not resonate with Cosby.

“Time is of the essence, but teachers have waited to get a raise,” she said to applause from the audience. “I’m sure they would rather get it right than rush it and get it wrong.”

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.”