Rachel Morello comes to StateImpact by way of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She has worked for various news and education-related organizations across the country - but no matter the locale, you’re sure to find her sporting a Packers jersey and tuning into “Car Talk.” You can follow her on Twitter @morellomedia.
As 2014 comes to a close, school leaders and teachers have a lot to think about as they move into the second semester of the school year – how can we keep moving forward? What can we improve?
Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana
Washington High School in Indianapolis is one of the failing schools members of the Committee on School Turnaround are trying to help.
In particular, the nine state schools considered ‘failing’ will be looking to take any positive steps that they can. And the State Board of Education‘s Committee on School Turnaround is looking for ways to help.
The panel met Monday for the final time this fall to review state intervention tactics at those nine schools and discuss potential changes. They’ll present their recommendations to the full state board at its Dec. 3 meeting.
To date, the state has established nine turnaround academies under one of three models:
Lead Partner: An external partner contracted by the state works with the school corporation in a limited capacity to operate certain aspects of the school.
Turnaround School Operator (TSO): An external partner contracted by the state operates the school independently, similar to a charter school. The school corporation continues to provide some operational services.
Transformation Zone: The school corporation develops its own turnaround plan, operating under varying degrees of state oversight. The school corporation can, but is not required to, work with an external partner contracted by the state as a turnaround operator.
Another day, another discussion of power among state education leaders.
Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks to reporters outside the State Board of Education meeting in July, when she engaged with board members about her duties as board chair.
Leadership of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce says one of the group’s top legislative priorities for the 2015 session is pushing to make the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction appointed beginning in 2016.
Chamber president Kevin Brinegar says he believes the superintendent, the head of the Department of Education, should be appointed similar to the heads of all other state agencies– a consistent position of the Chamber.
“This will be my 34th session, and for most of that time we’ve had the superintendent and the governor not on the same page with respect to major issues,” Brinegar says. “Often that’s because they’ve been of a different party, and in some cases they’ve even been of the same party but the governor didn’t appoint that person. We need consistency and one agenda for education that voters can assess and determine whether they like it or they don’t like it in the next election.”
Brinegar says the Chamber plans to speak up “louder this session than ever before” with respect to proposed legislation in favor of appointing the position. If such legislation is unable to pass, he says the Chamber advocates that members of the state board be allowed to select the chair of that body.
The state Constitution requires there be a State Superintendent, but leaves the method of selection up to legislators. Since it’s written into state law, reformers would need to push for an amendment to make the position appointed by the governor.
With winter weather on its way, school officials in Indiana are surely preparing for whatever Mother Nature has to throw their way (remember last year?)
Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana
Rather than make up snow days after the fact, the IDOE offers districs the option to provide virtual instruction while students are home from school.
One district sounds like they’ve got it all figured out. In the event of a snow day or other weather-related closing, students in the Twin Lakes School Corporation in Monticello will be able to complete their classwork online.
School officials announced on the district’s Facebook page earlier this week that the Indiana Department of Education approved its application to hold “eLearning Days” to replace traditional snow make-up days:
In the event of a cancellation, students will receive eLearning materials and will access their learning resources through the school’s website,tlschools.com, and through TLCampus, tlcampus.com. Teachers and technology staff will be available throughout eLearning days to assist students with questions.
In order to accommodate anyone experiencing technical difficulties during an eLearning day, classwork will be due two days after classes resume on the normal schedule.
School closings occurring after December 8 may be used as eLearning days.
The Department of Education implemented this virtual option during the polar vortex of the 2013-14 school year, and about 40 schools took advantage. According to the IDOE website, the option can be used in two ways: on a make-up day (to provide for students that might have difficulty learning outside of the building, i.e. internet access or special need accommodations), or on an inclement weather day.
Districts may only exercise the latter if special considerations for all students can be addressed and met away from the building.
One in five females on Indiana's college campuses is raped or sexually assaulted by the time she graduates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers pointed out that the group spends a lot of time talking about academic quality at the state’s public and private universities, and that discussion has expanded to include quality of life for students.
“We think this [needs] an all-hands-on-deck approach, and as the coordinating body for higher education in the state, the commission has an obligation to do that,” Lubbers says.
A report by Southern Indiana’s News and Tribune pinpoints why the Commission decided to call the meeting:
Prompting the commission’s interest are increasing numbers of sexual assaults reported on the state’s campuses. That includes IU-Bloomington, which has been under review by the U.S. Department of Education for possible violations of federal law in how it handles sexual violence.
Adding impetus, Indiana University-Bloomington police charged three men in connection with an off-campus attack last Sunday.
The Family and Social Services Administration has announced a new, official name for the state's pre-k pilot program: "On My Way Pre-K."
The FSSA also announced a new name for Indiana’s first state-funded pre-kindergarten program: “On My Way Pre-K.”
In order to participate, providers must qualify as a level 3 or 4 institution on the state’s Paths to QUALITY ranking system, as well as sign an agreement requiring them to follow minimum attendance guidelines and administer required kindergarten readiness assessments at least twice throughout the year.
A full list of requirements, as well as application materials and other forms are now posted to the official On My Way Pre-K website.
FSSA Director of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning Melanie Brizzi says her department is excited to begin this stage of the operation.
“Beginning to enroll early learning providers in On My Way Pre-K marks a significant milestone in our mission to provide high-quality early education for lower-income students in Indiana,” Brizzi said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging as many programs as possible to help us open the doors to new learning opportunities for Hoosier children.”
The saga of school busing fees continues, this time in Anderson.
Anderson Community Schools’ Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to cut ties with Webber Transportation, provider of Anderson’s bus service for the past 27 years.
Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana
Anderson Community Schools is the latest Indiana district to experience issues with its transportation provider.
Late last month, Indiana State Police pulled 29 of the company’s 30 buses being used in Anderson off the road, after a number of maintenance issues put school officials on alert for “potential safety concerns.” According to district records, brake and kingpin inspections had expired on 27 vehicles, and 18 out of 29 inspected had other violations including exhaust problems, fluid leaks or brake issues. The buses taken out of service represented between 15-20% of Webber’s total fleet.
ACS students have been going to and from school on re-routed buses for the past month. According to a WISH-TV report, district officials say they will continue with this backup plan, substituting independent contractors in for Webber drivers.
Tuesday night board members terminated the contract effective immediately, citing Webber’s failure to explain its maintenance problems and offer a plan of action for future maintenance and inspections to ensure the safety of students.
This isn’t the first time the district has asked residents to help the area’s youngest students – a similar referendum also failed in 2012.
The outcome of this vote could influence the larger discussion on how to fund pre-k programs statewide. Other communities were looking to Bartholomew County’s model to fund their own preschools, and Governor Pence and his advisers plan to use a similar public-private partnership model as they kick off the state’s first pre-k pilot program.
The Indianapolis City County Council and Mayor Greg Ballard reached an agreement to fund the mayor’s citywide pre-k plan, the group announced Wednesday.
After some initial dispute, the Indianapolis City-County Council has approved a funding plan for Mayor Greg Ballard's pre-k initiative.
Ballard introduced his early childhood education initiative back in July, as part of a larger plan to reduce crime in the city. He proposes that making preschool affordable to families in financial need will be a key approach in addressing the root causes of crime and poverty.
Matthew Tully of the Indianapolis Star calls this funding deal “the most ambitious preschool effort the city has ever seen”:
…the proposal would invest roughly $40 million in preschool over five years. The money will first provide scholarships to the families squeezed most by poverty’s grip. Democratic council leaders Maggie Lewis and John Barth, along with the Republican mayor’s office, have agreed to free up $15 million in city funds and dedicate them to preschool, and they have committed to find up to $5 million more from the existing budget. Meanwhile, led by the advocacy and contributions of Eli Lilly and Co., the business and nonprofit communities are expected to pump another $20 million into the program.
Tully also reports that the deal includes three major changes from Ballard’s initial proposal. Both the income eligibility rules and the minimum age of children who can participate have been lowered – to 127 percent of the poverty level and 3 years old, respectively – to target the most at-risk children. Additionally, money will not come out of the property tax credit, as the mayor proposed. Instead funds will come from three sources: money left over from the sale of city utilities in recent years, Homestead Tax credit money set aside for homes that don’t qualify for it, and a potential charter school authorization fee.
The race was much tighter this time around. The margin of loss was just over 1,200 votes, as opposed to almost 2,000 in 2012.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Superintendent John Quick says he’s disappointed in the outcome, but pleased that his community has started discussions about pre-k.
“I think we’ve raised the bar for pre-kindergarten in this community and around the state by having this conversation,” Quick says. “Our goal was to go from good to great, and it didn’t work out this time but we’ll have to just go back to the drawing board. We’ll keep the conversation going.”
Quick and others say the issue felt different this year than in 2012. They cited a change in ballot language which allowed for a more precise description of what the tax money would be used for, as well as increased community outreach efforts had them optimistic for a win.
School accountability grades will be the item to watch at this month’s State Board of Education meeting, following a delayed release in mid-October.
ludwg / Flickr
The State Board of Education is expected to release 2014 A-F school grades Wednesday, after they delayed doing so during last month's meeting.
Board members decided to hold off on releasing A-F grades during their Oct. 15 meeting, after expressing concern over a handful of data calculation errors. The scores had previously been released to schools and the media on an embargo, which board members voted to sustain until they could get an outside review of the errors.
For added clarity, here’s how Chalkbeat Indiana‘s Scott Elliott described the errors in question:
The schools in question might have lost credit toward their grades because of a mistake by a company that administers International Baccalaureate tests that high school students take when they finish advanced classes, state officials said. Indiana Department of Education staff said they discovered late in the grading process that the company had accidentally failed to submit results for Indiana students at about five schools but told the board the error would be fixed.
The state has seen controversy around its A-F system in the recent past. A panel of experts is currently working to tweak the system for upcoming years — that group will also give an update on their progress at Wednesday’s meeting.
The agenda is pretty packed, so here’s a quick look at some of the other big items on the docket: