Senate lawmakers continued an ongoing conversation Wednesday about how the state handles schools in jeopardy.
Original bill language in would have allowed the state to take over entire school corporations, rather than just individual schools. Committee members approved an amendment to eliminate that section.
This is sure to please Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who shared his concerns about this section with the Times of Northwest Indiana earlier this week:
Smith said Gary and Indianapolis schools are the only two corporations in the state that have had schools taken over.
“My concern is that if you have a school like Gary where there are three schools which have an A, and two other schools with a B and a C, why take over the whole district,” he said. “There is no great effort to get to the root of the problem or to assist. They just want to move forward and take over the entire district.”
Elements of the bill that remain intact include shrinking the timeline for state intervention. Currently, state officials must design a plan for any school receiving failing school accountability grades (D’s or F’s) for six consecutive years; the bill recommends bringing that number down to four.
Another big change: the measure would confirm the use of a transformation zone as an approved method of school turnaround. The State Board of Education has touted this approach in recent months, pointing to a successful project in Evansville as a model of the strategy.
Many board members – as well as local school leaders – say they prefer the transformation zone over other techniques such as the “Lead Partner” and Turnaround School Operator models, which both involve districts contracting out with external organizations for help.
One such proponent is Smith’s colleague, Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, who says the transformation zone allows for more community input on how to better area schools.
“If the local people wish to control this, then I think that far more leads to it being successful than outside operators coming in trying to make those decisions,” Rogers says.
Just last week, the state board voted to close a school in Rogers’ district at which she says leaders had planned to employ the transformation zone model. She worries that the decision to close Gary’s Dunbar-Pulaski Academic & Career Academy came to a vote too quickly – before she or Gary schools’ Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt had a chance to present their plans and progress to the board.
“The community had already stepped up and were in the midst of at least doing what they could,” Rogers explains. “I just saw no reason why we should be at a point where we could close the school when we are just beginning to start to come together to transform it.”
Chalkbeat Indiana‘s Shaina Cavazos highlights other key parts of the amended bill:
A provision in the bill requiring any decision by the state board to close a school to pass with a two-thirds majority was introduced. Before, the board could decide to close low-scoring schools by a simple majority.
If the board wants close a school, it would have to notify the district, and the school would have 60 days to create a new plan for improvement to present again before the board for a final decision. The board would also have to create, in conjunction with the district, a plan for reassigning that school’s students to other schools.
The committee is expected to hold a final vote on the measure next week.