Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

'Next Year Would've Been Better' At Indianapolis Takeover Schools

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    T.C. Howe High School teacher Kevin Sandorf has stripped his classroom walls of the posters, decorations, and even several flatscreen monitors he bought himself. T.C. Howe will be controlled by a state-appointed turnaround company next year. Sandorf will teach at IPS' Shortridge High School next year.

    All things considered, teacher Elizabeth Traficante says the staff of T.C. Howe Community High School had a pretty good year.

    She just wishes her colleagues had one more year — “to prove this wasn’t a fluke.”

    But the end of the school year in Indianapolis Public Schools’ Tuesday marks Traficante’s last day at Howe, one of five Indiana schools where state-appointed takeover companies will assume control in less than a month.

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    T.C. Howe Community High School in Indianapolis

    Traficante was brought in to teach special education at Howe as part of an IPS-led overhaul of the school’s staff. She and others say they began the year in early August excited to improve the school’s low test scores and head off a state intervention in the school, which includes students in Grades 7-12.

    But by the end of August 2011, state education officials had announced their plans to bring in Florida-based Charter Schools USA to operate Howe. Traficante says the teachers’ optimism faded.

    “Pulling the rug out from under us in August was not fair — not only to us, but certainly for our students,” Traficante says.

    “I think next year would’ve been better,” added Rich Haton, another Howe special education teacher.

    (In January, Haton compared the staff at Howe to “the dance band on the Titanic” in an interview with StateImpact. Haton joked Monday he still has a copy of the lyrics of “Nearer My God To Thee” over his desk.)

    Haton, Traficante and other staff say none of the school’s current teachers will be at Howe after the takeover. Haton and Traficante are still employed by IPS.


    The takeover process has been cumbersome and frustrating for officials at IPS, the Indiana Department of Education and the turnaround companies, as we’ve reported.

    Those frustrations were visible at a recent State Board of Education meeting, as turnaround operators offered blunt assessments of the current state of affairs in IPS schools, while district officials unsuccessfully argued state officials’ funding formula for the takeovers is inequitable.

    As we’ve written, the turnaround process offers lessons about education policy extending well outside the walls of the Indianapolis and Gary takeover schools.

    But as officials vent their frustrations publicly, students say they’re frustrated too.

    Howe senior Dexter Rogers plans to attend Indiana State University to study information technology after he graduates. But he feels for the juniors left with the decision to stay at Howe or remain in IPS — all to spend a year at one school they won’t consider their own, he says.

    “The decline of our schools is long-term pathology, it happened over time… we have to act with a sense of urgency when this long-term pathology has hit the place where we must act.”
    —Tony Bennett, state superintendent

    “Most juniors that I’ve heard were upset because some of them have went all the way from seventh grade to this point here [at Howe], and some of them are going to have to transfer to stay in IPS,” Rogers says, “which will mean they’re going to have to graduate in a different school, which they’re not even going to be completely representing, just because they’re doing that one year instead of representing this school because they’ve been here the whole time.”

    District figures released in February show more than than 40 percent of students attending Howe, Arlington and Manual high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School opted to switch to another IPS building rather than remain in the takeover schools.

    We’ll continue to feature voices of students and teachers who’ve witnessed the takeovers on the ground level — before and after the turnaround operators take control. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about the takeover? Share them in the comments section.


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