As start of school nears, key principal jobs are still empty

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
George Washington High School.

As many as five school leadership positions — principals or assistant principals — could still be open in Indianapolis Public Schools when school starts on Aug. 4.

That’s what Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told the school board today. Some were not thrilled to hear filling the jobs has taken all summer.

“Where are the vice principals for George Washington and Northwest (high schools)?” board member Michael Brown asked Ferebee. “We need to get these people on board. What’s going on?”

But Ferebee said he would rather have an interim leader begin the school year than select the wrong person to do the job.

“We’ll be ready for the opening of school,” Ferebee said. “We’re not going to rush to fill a position when (we) haven’t had an opportunity to make sure that person is a great fit for our organization. You have to make sure sure you’re able to secure talent that you believe will help build a school moving forward.”

Board members tonight approved the hiring of assistant principals at School 99 and School 67, along with an athletic director at Northwest High School but decided to delay a vote on whether to hire a new media coordinator at the district, saying they wanted more information about the position. They will likely be presented with another slate of new hires at the July 22. Principals for George Washington and Northwest High Schools were hired last month.

Ferebee announced last year he would not renew the contracts for more than 20 principals, assistant principals and other central office administrators across the district, including several of those who served in 11 priority schools rated F by the state with flat or falling test scores. Four principals and nine assistant principals were included in that list.

The board recently approved a new principal selection process that will include community members in the hiring process. Ferebee asked school board members for patience.

“We have a lot more people at the table involved in selecting principals, which we believe will heighten ownership and prepare the principal to be successful because there’s buy-in,” Ferebee said. “The more people you have involved in the process, the longer it’s going to take. We believe we must continue to do our due diligence … because we know that long term, it’s going to pay benefits for the school and the community.”

Ferebee also asked the board to keep open a date at the end of the month in case he needs them to approve last-minute hires.


What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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.