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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Sherry and Isaac Fincher hold signs in protest of the district’s ISTEP+ scores outside the EACS administration building before the district’s board meeting Tuesday in New Haven.

EACS defends tests of black students

ISTEP+ scores lead to NAACP protest

– East Allen County Schools board members heard both criticism and praise of how the district educates black students during an emotional meeting Tuesday.

While several residents shared their dismay over recent test results showing a widening achievement gap between black and white students, others lauded the work of teachers and principals who they said work tirelessly to improve the academic performance of all students.

The discussion was in regards to the ISTEP+ data that was released last week by the Indiana Department of Education.

According to the results, 33 percent of East Allen’s black students passed both sections of the exam, down from 39 percent the year before. About 76 percent of white students passed both sections.

About 15 parents and members of the community gathered outside the EACS administration building before the meeting to express their dissatisfaction with the district’s approach to educating black students. They carried signs that included slogans such as “unacceptable” and “100 percent failure of leadership.”

The rally was organized by the NAACP, which was calling for parents to boycott the district by sending their students to other school districts, charter schools or private schools.

“Throughout EACS, nearly 70 percent of black students did not pass ISTEP+. That’s sad,” Fort Wayne NAACP President Paulette Nellems told the board in a prepared statement. “Outcomes like these cannot be tolerated by elected officials, community leaders or parents.”

At one point during public comment, Prince Chapman Academy Principal Thelma Green approached the board and made an emotional, passionate defense of the work going on at her school, which had the third-lowest scores in the region.

She said many of her students who did not pass ISTEP+ or IREAD 3 were not native English speakers. Furthermore, she said many of her kids demonstrated tremendous growth that was not measured on the tests.

“I’m there. I know what we do,” she said, teary-eyed. “I have a wonderful staff, and I have teachers who give it their all. We’re not coming in equal.”

East Allen Superintendent Karyle Green said she wasn’t happy with the initial scores but emphasized that the data is only one snapshot on one day and that the scores do not reflect the improvement that students are demonstrating in classrooms.

After the district receives student improvement data from the state, she said, the administration would have a better sense of what was going on in schools.

“It’s really a bit early to be as disappointed,” she said. “It’s one piece of the data.”

Maintenance issues

The board heard an update on its capital projects fund, which officials said has been hit by property tax cap losses and decreases in local revenue.

Business Manager Kirby Stahly said the fund no longer has the revenue for substantial maintenance projects, such as installing new roofs. Moving forward, he suggested, the board should consider applying for general obligation bonds to complete the projects. Those bonds would be less than $2 million and would not have to be approved through a referendum.

Board member Richard Allgeier expressed concern that the board had recently approved the purchase of iPads without a thorough discussion of how the move would affect the needs of buildings. In April, the board voted 4-2 with one abstention to spend about $3.5 million on the tablets.

Board attendance

At the end of the meeting, New Haven-area board member Alyssa Lewandowski, who has missed more than a dozen meetings in the last few months, made a statement about her return to the board.

Lewandowski has been working a second shift and was not allowed by her employer to miss work for the meetings, she said. But from now on, she said she would be taking her vacation time to attend the meetings.

“I am here to fulfill the oath I took back in 2008,” she said. “I am no quitter. … Here I will stay to the end of my term.”

The board approved the hiring of Michael Shaffer as the new executive director of instruction and student support.

Shaffer, who spent four years as principal at Lincoln Elementary in Fort Wayne Community Schools, will replace Britt Magneson, who left to pursue another opportunity on the East Coast.