Locals question state takeover of Howe HS 

IPS Superintendent Eugene White favors a turnaround approach that involved replacing staff, reorganizing the school and firing everyone if progress is not achieved by the end of 2012.
  • IPS Superintendent Eugene White favors a turnaround approach that involved replacing staff, reorganizing the school and firing everyone if progress is not achieved by the end of 2012.

Irvington community members, parents, and students at Thomas Carr Community High School gathered Monday night to underscore to the
Indiana Department of Education their desire to maintain local control of the school.

When standardized test scores are tabulated this summer, the state will determine if T.C. Howe has hit its sixth consecutive year of probation, after which the Indiana Department of Education may intervene in the school's management.This intervention is almost guaranteed
in some form, according to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

"It is not in the state's interest to take over these schools; I believe that local control is the best option,
but the state will have to act on behalf of these 19 schools if they cannot meet sufficient standards," Bennett told those gathered at Monday's meeting, referring to the total number of schools statewide that face probable IDOE intervention.

The public did not conceal its distaste for the idea of state involvement, with many people expressing opinions that it would do nothing but make matters worse. Others asked for more details on how a
state intervention would unfold, and for proof that the state's strategy would effect any greater improvement.

Tina Ahlgren, a math teacher at T.C. Howe for six years and a member of the Indiana
Education Reform Cabinet
, feared state intervention could introduce another chaotic element into students' lives. "The students' home lives are often already filled with upheaval," she said. "School should be their rock, not one more thing that lets them down."

Kelly Shaffer, mother of student Hali Shaffer, agreed."Here we have children whose lives are unimaginable: Some of them have to raise siblings, some have no home because they've been kicked out, some have no
parents at all.We can't engage students unless we address their needs."

Both of these women acknowledged the school's past difficulty in meeting the assessment criteria, but supported allowing the school to continue on its own path, with encouragement from the

The implication made by some education reformers that the district is making excuses for students' poor performance on standardized tests or that individuals within the district somehow lack the
will to hoist their bootstraps indicates a lack of understanding of the systemic issues, such as multi-generational poverty, plaguing many of the state's large, inner-city schools, said Mary Louise Bewley, IPS spokesperson, in a telephone interview after the hearing.

When students have to spend more time on mere survival, it may take them longer to graduate than it takes students who have the love and support of an intact and involved family network, she said.

Nonetheless, the district acknowledges the need for progress. And to that end, IPS Superintendant Eugene White presented the outline of T.C. Howe's 2011-2012 Turnaround Plan in hopes that it the Indiana State Board of Education would accept it as a way forward.

The Turnaround Plan includes two tracks: The first features a reorganization of the school, a new dual-crediting partnership with Vincennes University, college readiness programs and a more intense focus on reading. The second track would implement a wholesale house cleaning.

"[In this case] we will completely start this school from zero," White said. "Very few staff will remain."

Changes already in store for T.C. Howe include an infusion of fresh teaching staff. An estimated 60 percent of the school's teachers will be new to T.C. Howe next year.

"We understand how serious the problem is so we need to get fresh teachers with these students in addition to curriculum changes," Bewley said.

If the Turnaround Plan is accepted, the school must show progress by the end of 2011 or it will enter a two-semester probationary period in 2012. If "appropriate progress" is not achieved, the Plan B option would be implemented and teachers, administrators and some support staff will be replaced.

Most of the hearing's more than 30 speakers endorsed the Turnaround Plan as their most-favored intervention response option.

Eliminating staff and changing the power structure of the school keeps these children from being able to hold onto anything, said Shaffer."These children need stability."

Michael Elliott, community liaison at the school, also voiced the concern that state intervention would alienate local involvement. "We are not the T.C. Howe State School," he said."Let the community take part."

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