Community responds: Plan to merge Arlington, John Marshall raises concerns

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
An Arlington High School student speaks at a public meeting hosted by IPS to discuss the future of the school that is being transitioned from state takeover.

The Indianapolis Public School Board pitched a proposal in September to merge Arlington and John Marshall high schools, but at a public feedback meeting Wednesday, several speakers said they were against the idea.

Retired IPS Principal Michael Chisley said he feared a combined school wouldn’t work.

“Anytime you merge two schools, you have problems,” he said.

The merger was the school board’s “preferred option” proposed to the Indiana State Board of Education late last year to win approval for Arlington to be returned to IPS control this summer after three years of outside management. The state board severed Arlington from the district after six straight years of F grades in 2012, handing it off to be run by Tindley Schools, a charter school operator.

But at the start of the school year, Tindley asked out of its contract, saying it could no longer afford to manage the school unless the state was willing to offer up more aid. It wasn’t.

IPS is eager to have the school back, but resistance to the idea of merger was so strong that Superintendent Lewis Ferebee stressed the board’s preference was not a final decision and other options would be considered.

“We’re going back to the drawing board,” Ferebee said. “Nothing’s off the table, nothing’s on the table. There’s a lot for us to consider and we want to ensure we think about every angle in terms of having a successful transition.”

Marshall is about five miles east of Arlington, serving a different neighborhood on the far East side of the city. The merger idea caught school and neighborhood leaders off guard when it was announced. Among the concerns of supporters of both schools is that mixing students from different neighborhoods together in a larger school could cause tension and fights.

English teacher Kathryn Council was one of several people concerned about student safety. She was one of about 60 people who attended the meeting.

“A lot of my students are super concerned about kids coming from John Marshall,” Council said. “I’ve heard them say ‘I don’t want to come back if John Marshall comes here.’ No kid should have to be afraid. School is supposed to be a safe haven.”

But Ferebee, who said IPS will soon start the process of hiring a new principal for Arlington, was less concerned, given that many IPS schools have students from different parts of town.

“There’s always this worry about ‘I’m from this neighborhood, you’re from that neighborhood,’” Ferebee said. “We’ll have an opportunity to have class together in a safe and orderly environment. Most of the time, our students get it right. I think some of the time, the adults struggle with that more than our students.”

Others at the public meeting said they hoped the Northeast side would come together to support the school, regardless of what it looks like next year.

“We cannot let Arlington go down the drain,” said Gloria Sam, a retired teacher who sent two children to IPS schools. “We’re going to have to use some elbow grease and get in the trenches and stop talking all the time and do the walking.”

Arlington is one of four IPS schools taken over by the state in 2012, plus one in Gary. It is the first takeover school to begin the process of returning to school district control. The transition back is expected to be complete by June.

What began as a tense relationship, with the takeover organizations complaining early on that IPS was resisting cooperation with them, has evolved into a workable arrangement, Ferebee said. IPS even took over ground maintenance, sports field maintenance and snow removal at Arlington to keep the school running this year after Tindley said it couldn’t afford to anymore.

“There is no division,” Ferebee said. “That’s done and in the past and we’re moving forward.”

But many questions remain about how the transition will work. A student speaker asked if the teachers she’s comes to rely on would stay employed at the new Arlington High School.

Tindley CEO Marcus Robinson said he’s not sure what will happen to current Arlington teachers, who are employed by Tindley, not IPS. He said he’d work with them to find jobs within other Tindley schools, but that many have developed an affinity for their students and may want to apply to IPS to stay at the building. Ferebee said teachers could apply to stay at the school.

“Our job right now is to make sure the transition is smooth,” Robinson. “It will come down to what the teacher really prefers. We want to see it work. We care very much about the future of this building and this school community.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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