When Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Tamika Manson returned to work after a trip to Canada, she could sense something was off.
“I was refreshed, recharged, and ready to go. I walked in the door and headed to our staff meeting, but the faces I saw were really sad and defeated.”
At that meeting, Manson learned that she had been voted teacher of the year at Stephen Foster School 67. She was overjoyed and thankful that her peers recognized her dedication to her students.
Minutes later, she found out she might not be teaching at the school much longer.
“I was like ‘oh my goodness, thank you, wow.’ In the same breath, my principal said the board would be voting on our school to restart. This was all in the same five minutes,” Manson said. “When I found out I was teacher of the year, I reached out to a very good friend that was once a colleague and told her the good news. I was like ‘I don’t know how to feel.’ It’s one thing to be voted teacher of the year, but I was voted teacher of the year during the year we are closing.”
Unsatisfactory test scores inspired IPS to restart Stephen Foster School 67 and Louis B. Russell School 48, handing control to charter operators who will run the schools as they see fit. Both schools earned an F rating from the Indiana Department of Education.
Principals, teachers, and administrators will be replaced as new leaders take over. Teachers can interview with the charter operators, but historically with other restarted schools in IPS, the operators are not likely to hire the teachers. Some teachers have spoken out about the decision.
Tamika Manson began teaching at School 67 two years ago, after returning to the U.S. from working abroad. She was hired to lead a fourth-grade classroom and followed the same group of students as they entered the fifth grade, which she says strengthened her relationships with the students.
Manson and her fellow educators were put on a displaced teacher list as they consider the next steps in their careers. She’s not sure where she’ll be working next year.
“We will interview at schools to find a match. But the administrators— I don’t know if they have a displaced list. I don’t believe the principal does,” Manson said.
Since news of a restart spread through the school, the atmosphere has shifted.
“The faces that I see sometimes, or the things I’m hearing in the hallways are to be expected of people who are concerned about how things are going to change and affect their lives,” Manson explained.
However, it’s not just the teachers who are concerned. Parents, both for and against the restart, have passionately expressed their thoughts on the issue at board meetings. Manson says parents have called her after hours to convey their support, and students have questioned her about the restart in class. Her goal is to keep the school day as normal as possible for students.
“The students ask me ‘what does that mean for your job’ and I’m like ‘I’m going to be okay; don’t worry,’” she said. “Everything I do sends a message to them, so I have to always be mindful. I want to make my time with them count and I know I have until June, so that’s where my focus has been. That’s what gets me through day to day.”
Manson knows that when her students return for the 2020/2021 school year, they won’t have familiar adults to greet them in the halls. At the end of the day, she wants what’s best for her students.
“It has been a rewarding and a challenging experience as we go through these changes at Stephen Foster,” she explained. “There are a lot of caring staff who have spent a lot of time building relationships with these students. We gain their trust, and we empower them to learn. A restart doesn’t speak on that or show what’s necessarily happening inside (the school). Everyone is doing their best to put forth a good fight to the end because we are here for the kids, regardless of everything else.”
And while a restart can be a piece of the puzzle, Manson says every member of the community plays a role in a student’s success.
“The teachers, the parents, the administrators on the school level, the administrators on the district level, the community, the churches, the media,” she said. “It’s going to take everybody to see change. As we fix those institutions, we will see changes in the classroom.”