How I got here: the sun in my eyes

The 2012 campaign proved to be a pivotal turning point in the history of Indianapolis school board elections.  As my good friend John Harris Loflin delineates in his guest blog post, pre-2012 IPS elections typically raised a couple thousand dollars at best.  The total raised in 2012 for all candidates was over a hundred times that.

Why has the local school board election, which used to cost candidates a few thousand dollars at most, turned into a cut-throat race garnering tens of thousands of dollars?

What happened between the 2010 election and the 2012 election that changed the political landscape?

Enter:  Special Interest Groups.

The heavy hitting funders in the 2012 election, by far, were Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform, which both exploded on the Indianapolis “ed reform” scene between 2010-2012.  You can see their involvement in my campaign finance by reviewing the report here.  A complete list of IPS school board candidates finance reports is also public information – available online.

Why did these Special Interest groups decide to set up shop in Indianapolis?

“The stars had aligned” (Eli Lilly, The Mind Trust, and the Mayor’s office, mainly) to make Indianapolis a very hospitable place for Charter Schools.  Charter Schools, as you know, are in direct competition with traditional public schools (IPS) for students.  Each student who chooses to enroll in a charter school brings more income for that school, so recruiting and advertising is very important…anyway, now that you have introduced this free-market approach to education, schools are beginning to be run like businesses.  Since each student brings in roughly the same amount of funding, if you are in a business, you start to think of things like overhead (rent, electricity, etc) and profit margin.

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The Indiana State Consitution – ARTICLE 8. Education

Section 1. Common school system

Section 1. Knowledge and learning, general diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.

(Hmm…I don’t think the Indiana State Constitution precludes Charter Schools, but it sure doesn’t sound like our forefathers intended for folks to be profiting off of educating our children.)

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Back to my 2012 campaign:

I decided to run in early 2012 for a variety of reasons.  I’m a die-hard eastsider, born, raised, and still here. I am a third generation graduate of IPS schools, K-12.  I sent my child to IPS.  From 2007-2011, I taught in IPS as a Special Education teacher.  Product, Parent, Employee.  I had multiple perspectives to bring to the table, but the most pressing one was the need for change I saw as a teacher in IPS elementary schools.  To highlight several of the most pressing issues:

  • The overarching need for our schools to have more autonomy, based on the fact that teachers and principals know the needs of their students better than folks at the district level (no more top down, one size fits all mandates)
  • Teachers need to be freed from constrictive pedagogy focused on passing tests – teaching at its best is an art designed to inspire young minds (UGH! no more Pacing Guides to tell me what to teach by the week, day, and hour)
  • Curriculum focused on teaching to the test ensures a failure rate of about half of the student population if you assume a normal bell curve distrubution
  • Parents, on the most basic level, have the right to choose where to send their children to school
  • In 2012, I felt that a change in IPS leadership was overdue and absolutely necessary

None of these principles which were a part of my campaign platform, have changed.  I still believe these things as I did in 2011-2012 when I campaigned for this seat.

What has changed:  I am no longer as naive about how this game called politics works.  After two years of connecting the political dots, I have come to realize that most of these people are in each other’s back pockets.  Now, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m seeing things for what they really are.  The IPS board has been purchased by ed-reform groups, most notably Stand for Children.  Some seats they didn’t have to purchase, because some people ran unopposed in 2012.  But the ed-reform ideology perpetuates all board members except myself…and Stand for Children has been the largest / most consistent campaign contributor.

I guess they tried to buy my vote.  They were not successful, if that was their goal.

I weigh every single decision I make on its own merits.  I have not been afraid to be critical of decisions that warrant criticism.  I don’t care if I piss you off…I’m really not here to make friends.  I will continue to advocate for the children and the district that I love, unafraid, until my time on the school board is over.  I will continue to think critically about decisions and when concerns arise, I will continue to share those concerns in a very public way.  I will serve in the capacity that an elected official should – not merely glossing over and rubber stamping everything the Superintendent wants – but truly striving to represent MY community.  After all, their votes elected me.  They are my constituents.  I am their voice.

As always, if you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email me:

gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

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Myth vs. Fact: The Mass Insight deal

Tonight the vote went down (6 – 1 [ME]) to approve the contract with Mass Insight to create a “Transformation Zone” over several years, starting with the westside of the district (GW and Northwest and feeder elementary schools).

I raised several concerns at Tuesday’s briefing about specific language in the Scope of Work document, which is an attachment to the contract which specifies the work to be done.  Hayleigh Columbo of Chalkbeat highlighted my concerns and also posed her own questions about specific details in the scope of work: http://in.chalkbeat.org/2015/03/17/ips-board-supportive-of-plan-for-2-high-schools-but-cosby-has-doubts/#.VQue6o54pcQ

I want to outline those for you here, so you can determine for yourself, whether they should be deemed mythical or factual.

These are the items which are allegedly myths that need to be dispelled, according to IPS Administration prezi:screengrabPlease.  I invite you, implore you, to review the entire document for yourself by clicking here.  You will see that there is no mention of community involvement until phase 2 of the project, where it mentions “fostering community support” after decisions have been made.  “Hey, let me tell you what we’ve done to your schools, and then tell you why you should like it.”  Sure thing.

You will also see language indicating a change to the governing structure:

screengrab2

As well as very direct language stating that staff in the Transformation Zones will have to re-apply for their jobs:

screengrab3

Oh, and the contract will cost IPS money.  Maybe not the whole 2.1 million, but it will cost IPS money.  Look at the first bullet/checkmark above.  Mass Insight expects a financial commitment of ‘at least $750,000 per school’!!

The board should not vote on pretty powerpoints which attempt to discredit their commissioners and other stakeholders by labeling their concerns and pointed questions as myths.  That is rather dismissive, and I took offense to it.

The board should, however, vote on the legal contract and the associated documents – which include the Scope of Work discussed above.  I urged my fellow board members to consider moving toward amendments to the Scope of Work document before ratifying the contract with this company.  They declined to do so.

I guess I was just brought up to read carefully before I sign.  This isn’t even the fine print, people…it’s as plain and bold as day, right in our faces if we are only looking.  It’s like shopping for a car.  You want to listen to everything the slick salespeople say, but you know damn good and well you better read that document before you sign.

Let’s go… you know I couldn’t make this stuff up.  And I’ve got the screen shots to prove it.

My next post will most definitely be all about my 2012 campaign, and how I got here.  I will try to average 1-2 posts per week.  Thanks for your support!  Over 1,000 people viewed my first blog post, and it was shared on facebook over 200 times!  🙂

Check out the Chalkbeat follow-up article to the post above: http://in.chalkbeat.org/2015/03/19/ferebee-calls-cosbys-concerns-myths-as-board-approves-plan-for-2-high-schools/#.VQufHI54pcQ

Ideas, thoughts, suggestions, questions?  Email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com

Innovation Network, 1321, Phalen Leadership Academy

SO… Here it is, after much prompting from others, and admittedly, some procrastination on my part.  A blog.  From your local school board member.  🙂

Why?  Let’s suffice it to say that if I felt that you were getting the whole truth and nothing but – well, then…this blog wouldn’t be neccesary, would it?

My grandmother used to say that sunshine is the best disinfectant.  To me, that means:  Transparency.  People are empowered by knowledge.  When there are not multiple layers (like an onion) that have to be peeled away before you get to the core, people are provided with true rationales and can make their own judgements.  The public school system of Indianapolis is just that: public, in every sense of the word.  It is free and open to all, and it is funded by public dollars.  Therefore, all of the doings of the governance team are public information and can be found on Board Docs by following this link: http://www.boarddocs.com/in/indps/Board.nsf/Public

During my tenure, I have come to the realization that not many are informed, even myself at times.  My hope is that this blog is informative, and the information provided here is EMPOWERING.

I need you to feel empowered.  I need you to speak up, show out, stand up.  Our kids need you to be empowered to do all of these things and more.

Let’s go.

The first topic I want you to be informed about is timely… just recently it was announced that school 103 will be operated next year by Phalen Leadership Academy.  Y’all really need to know how this deal evolved:

Last year, The Mind Trust was successful in establishing the Innovation School Network.  The board reluctantly agreed to it because the purpose of it was to take applications from individuals who had a school idea and give them a year to incubate their idea before launching a school.

The board vice president (myself) and president were a member of the selection committee.  Which meant that we were able to look at four candidates ( after the ~80 initial applications were screened) and choose three out of the four.  Yes, you heard that right, we got to see about 5% of the applicant pool.

One of the four applications we saw didn’t fit the mold.  It was an already established charter school organization – not an individual with an idea.  It was Phalen Leadership Academy.

We expressed our concerns about the intent of the Innovation School Network program.

We said we would not support it.

Phalen Leadership Academy is new to Indianapolis and does not have accountability grades from the state yet, because they did not have any students in ISTEP grades (3-8).  THE PURPOSE of the Innovation Network is to raise the school’s state accountability grade.  How can we expect to raise our state grade by putting a charter school operator in charge WHO HAS NEVER BEEN GIVEN A STATE ACCOUNTABILITY GRADE?

We voiced our concerns about the lack of available data to suggest that Phalen Leadership Academy would be capable of turning around a failing school.  We said we would not support it.

Phalen was chosen by The Mind Trust anyway (not the selection committee that the IPS Prez & VP sat on, but the corporation) and the principal awarded $100,000 salary plus benefits.  He was given a year incubation period to grow a school model which was already in existence.  Everything proceeded as if the school board had no say in the matter.

When it came time to vote in December 2014, we did exactly what we said we were going to do all along.  WE DID NOT SUPPORT IT. The motion for the partnership failed for lack of a majority, with myself, Annie Roof, and Samantha Adair White voting no.  Mike Brown was absent.  The other three voted yes.

Then a board election resulted in a change of three board members effective January 2015.  Mike Brown, Samantha Adair White and Annie Roof lost re-election campaigns.  The three who supported it stayed.

No time was wasted before the Phalen partnership was put back on the agenda for a second time and subsequently approved.

Even more disappointing than the chain of events I just described is the process by which school 103 was chosen to be the recipient of this trojan horse bestowed upon the district.

PL 1321 allows for these type of charter partnerships to take place within any failing IPS school…so there are several to choose from.  When the board was informed that school 103 was the choice, I immediately questioned the selection process.

Was any work done to determine best fit?  Were students, parents, staff, or the community at large asked to weigh in on this decision?

No, no, no.  They were not, and will not.

How’s that for autonomy?

EMPOWER, people.  Please share, and stay tuned for more enlightening tales from your local school board, at work.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Comments, questions, ideas?  Email me at gayle_cosby@yahoo.com