Who Is In Charge

IPS names newest board member: A Center for Inquiry parent who speaks Spanish fluently

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A parent at School 27 who speaks Spanish fluently will be the newest member of the Indianapolis Public Schools board — and the only member with a child enrolled in the district.

The current board chose Dorene Rodriguez Hoops by a 4-2 vote to fill the vacancy created by LaNier Echols’ surprise resignation last month. The other candidates, Michael Brown and Eugene Hawkins, each received one vote.

A native of California, Hoops has lived in Indianapolis since 2011. She is a first-generation Mexican American who has a background running human resources for a large nonprofit.

Hoops will represent District 5, which includes the northwest side of the school district, and she will serve some heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. That is one reason why board member Kelly Bentley said she voted for Hoops.

“We heard loud and clear the last time we filled a position that we needed some Hispanic representation,” Bentley said. “She’s got a big background in human resources that I think will benefit the board and the district, and she’s a parent in the district of a special needs student, which I think is going to be really important as well.”

Although several board members have relatives who attend IPS, Hoops will be the only board member with a child enrolled in the district when she starts in January. Her son attends School 27, a Center for Inquiry magnet on the near north side.

A parent organizer from the group Stand for Children, which trains parents to advocate for their children and endorses board candidates, also highlighted Hoops Latina background.

“Like so many students in IPS, Dorene has had to overcome the challenges of learning in a non-native language,” Cesar Roman said in a statement. “She’s faced the struggles that go along with being from an immigrant family and having to assimilate into a culture, all while trying to take full advantage of her educational opportunities.”

Hoops could not immediately be reached for comment. When she interviewed for the seat last week, Hoops said her work advocating for her son, who has special needs, has increased her commitment in ensuring that every child has access to a good school.

“I really am passionate about ensuring that all children of all backgrounds and abilities have the educational experience that they need in order to make the choices that they want to make in the future,” she told the board.

One of the other candidates vying for the seat was Michael Brown, a 16-year veteran of the board who lost his seat to Echols in 2014. Board member Gayle Cosby, who did not run for reelection, said she voted for Brown because of his experience on the board.

Echols, who was not up for reelection until 2018, told Chalkbeat just hours ahead of the November election that she planned to resign. Cosby said that Echols should have resigned earlier in the year so the position could appear on the ballot.

“I believe that had that seat been elected in an election that Mike Brown would’ve been a clear choice,” she said. “He, in my opinion, was a clear choice based on his many years of experience to the board.”

Michael O’Connor, who was chosen last year to fill a school board seat midterm, said there is a steep learning curve for board members who are appointed rather than elected.

“If you are running for a full term, you are getting up to speed on issues that the board is facing because you are going to forums and other stuff,” O’Connor said. “This is drinking from a fire hose.”

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: