This is the fourth and final in a series stemming from a Chiefs for Change panel discussion at the National Charter Schools Conference hosted by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. With such a dynamic and experienced group of leaders offering insights from their communities, we wanted to share lightly edited highlights of comments from each of the four Chiefs. The first part with commentary from Superintendent of Denver Public Schools Tom Boasberg is here, the second in the series with Pedro Martinez here and the third with Kunjan Narechania is here.
Lewis Ferebee joined Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) after serving as chief of staff for Durham Public Schools.
In Indianapolis, Ferebee has led efforts to shift away from direct central office oversight of schools to a system of autonomously run schools monitored and managed by a streamlined administrative team.
In his remarks below at the National Charter Schools Conference, Ferebee shares how IPS is focusing on its lowest-performing schools, transportation as a barrier to real school choice and shifting the conversation back to students.
Collaborating to Focus on the Lowest-Performing School
We ask a lot of our charters as we’ve undergone a dramatic shift from a time when our state Department of Education would take over schools to a more collaborative effort where we are focused on our lowest-performing schools. We have a school incubator where we collaborate to introduce new learning models particularly for those schools. We also have a common framework for how schools will be supported when there are issues around achievement.
We continue to ask our charter partners to lead with us in communities where we have low socioeconomic mobility and high concentrations of poverty. We must own that collectively between charter and traditional schools. Our recent focus has been around equity, access, and ensuring we have strong interventions where we see low performance.
Transportation as a Barrier to Real Choice
Transportation remains vital. Parents don’t have real choice unless transportation is provided. We have high standards in IPS around transportation, although charter schools are not required to provide transportation, which has been a barrier to real choice. Most of our partners have options for transportation. We are often the provider, but we are not the sole provider.
The other issue we see is having intentional expectations around replication and expansion of new school models. We have specific ZIP codes that are neglected. Like many urban areas, there are haves and have nots. Typically, there is a push to expand in neighborhoods with more means and wealth. We have focused on neighborhoods that haven’t had these opportunities. And we have shared expectations to not over saturate communities where there are already a number of high-performing schools.
Shifting the Conversation Back to Students
The politics are very complicated, and things are polarized right now. The best thing we all, nationally and locally, can do is agree that there is not yet a high-quality school at every grade level in every community.
That is the conversation I return to when we get caught up in these big debates. There is no one solution, nor one problem. When we’ve sought to solve big problems in this nation, it’s always been with multiple solutions.
And a lot of the politics are adult-centered. When we shift the conversation back to our students to ensure there are high-quality options in every community, we can move away from the politics somewhat.