IPS teachers protest $125K salary for new 'talent officer'

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
OurIPS is aiming to unseat three current board members.

The Indianapolis Public School Board on Thursday approved hiring a new “talent officer,” with a $125,000 salary, to help Superintendent Lewis Ferebee solve the district’s latest staffing challenge: filling 300 vacant teacher and staff positions by the first day of school on Aug. 3.

But some teachers, who haven’t had a raise in more than five years, took offense at the district’s decision to spend the equivalent of three and a half first-year teacher salaries  — $35,684 — to create a new central office administrative position.

“Every time you see a new position or a six-figure salary, it’s a slap in the face,” said Angela Covell-Tipton, a middle school teacher at Key Learning Community who this year was a finalist for the prestigious Hubbard Life-Changing Teacher Award. “It seems excessive given the current needs we have. It just feels like it’s a respect issue. We feel under-appreciated.”

But board member Kelly Bentley said the district has a serious problem with staff turnover and it needs a clear strategy going forward to keep talented people in the district.
“Teachers have a legitimate reason for being frustrated,” Bentley said. “We’re trying to think of the long term health of the district. Recruiting really good people is an important talent for someone to have. Unfortunately, the district has not done a very good job of that in the past. If this helps with that, it’s definitely money well spent.”
Ferebee announced in May that he planned to give teachers a salary raise next year. He and his team have acknowledged that keeping good teachers in the district is tough when, in some cases, they can go a few miles away and make much more. A teacher who stays at IPS for 25 years could lose as much as $235,000 over a career compared to someone in the same position less than 10 miles away in Decatur Township, according to a 2010 study by Teach Plus called “The Cost of Loyalty.”
Covell-Tipton said five of her teacher friends left this year, some to take jobs nearby. It gets harder to stay every year, she said.
“They qualify to be on public assistance as a teacher,” Covell-Tipton said. “It’s insulting. We’re professionals. IPS teachers love the kids and that’s why we’re here.”
The new talent officer position is part of a restructuring of the human resources office, Ferebee said. The board tonight also approved hiring a new human resources operations officer for $145,000 per year.
Mindy Schlegel, a former Indiana Department of Education official under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett, was hired for the talent officer position. She currently is a policy fellow with Public Impact, which is working with IPS on a new staffing model design.
Lela Hester was hired for the human resources officer position. She previously has consulted for IPS, and used to work with Ferebee at Durham Public Schools in North Carolina.
The board approved the hires 6-1, with board member Gayle Cosby voting against them.
 “I don’t feel it’s aligned with our overall goal of streamlining (the) central office,” Cosby said. “It just doesn’t sit well with me.”
IPS teachers union President Rhondalyn Cornett said she doesn’t like the idea of adding another highly paid administrator.
“In the beginning, when (Ferebee) came, he was streamlining,” Cornett said. “But it seems to me that we keep slowly adding people back.”
Board President Diane Arnold dismissed that concern.
“If we want the best teachers and we want to retain we have to do something to make that happen,” Arnold said. “We haven’t done it in the past. We have to figure out a different way to do it.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.