Despite administrative changes, partnership stands

Amid administrative shake-ups and new oversight, administrators at both Butler University and Shortridge Magnet High School say their partnership is growing.

The partnership—put into practice between Butler and Indianapolis Public Schools in 2009 when Shortridge reopened as a magnet school for law and public policy—now includes the Early College Program, collaborative workshops for faculty and administrators, summer camps, student programming and other department and college-level initiatives. Programs are provided for mainly through a series of grants.

On Jan. 24 the IPS school board approved layoff notices to Shortridge vice principals James Larkin and Lora Elliott as well as 32 other administrators as part of IPS Superintendent Eugene White’s reorganization plan, which is designed to save the district $40 million and shrink the size of the central office.

White said he was required to give notice now before he would be able to lay off administrators in May.

The vote came after White recommended in early November that school board members terminate then-Shortridge Principal Brandon Cosby. White’s reasons for the firing were insubordination, failure to supervise faculty, failure to provide leadership, failure to complete spending reports requested by a school funder, failure to complete teacher evaluations and poor supervision of students.

Also cited was failure to collaborate with the school’s partner, Butler.

Shortridge Principal Stan Law, who has been in his position since Jan. 9, said the reorganization will not affect the partnership.

”Change is the only constant in life, and the partnership is not about the person, it’s about the institution,” Law said. “I think the partnership will be well intact and only grow with the change.”

While there was outcry from many parents and students with Cosby’s departure, Elliott said the transition between principals has been fairly smooth.

She said she has worked with Law before and that he has the ability to further both the school and the partnership.

“Mr. Cosby had his strengths of being the best orator I’ve ever heard, but [Law] brings in organization,” she said. “When you’re a speaker that talks about a vision, sometimes you miss the nuts and bolts pieces.”

Elliott said new leadership will help both students and faculty grow and become more connected.

“We were a lot of individuals, and I’ve actually begun to see a team emerge,” she said. “If you get the students in on that it goes from team to family.”

When the school initially opened, liaison Mark Cosand assisted Butler faculty members to determine how they and their colleges could work with Shortridge.

A grant from the Lilly Endowment that covered the school’s start-up costs and  Cosand’s position ran out in 2011, and the position was not renewed.

A steering committee took over in March, and Associate Provost Mary Macmanus Ramsbottom, who also serves as the administrative liaison for the partnership, said it was necessary to manage the different connections.

Before the steering committee took over, individual teachers or departments would collaborate with Shortridge on their own. While Ramsbottom said this type of collaboration is important, the committee will help to streamline the process and make it more “intentional.”

“We’re hoping that providing a little bit of structure in no way hampers people from being innovative in their ideas,” Ramsbottom said. “But it’s really a way to help make sure that we’re doing the things that are working best for both partners.”

Shelly Furuness, assistant professor of education, said the steering committee will serve as a centralized body and help the partnership prioritize.

“Education has to happen first and foremost before projects,” Furuness said.

Ramsbottom said the committee is still in its early stages and in no way wants to disrupt any ongoing partnership activities or collaboration.

“Right now we don’t want to say, ‘Well, wait until we get our act together,’” she said. “We want to say, ‘If you have a good idea, and Shortridge is interested, let’s find out who the person is you should talk to. We provide those linkages, and they go to town.”

Christine Muller, a Shortridge English teacher who works with Butler faculty and students on the Writing in the Schools program, said that connections need to come on the teacher-to-teacher level.

She said the partnership has become somewhat “out of sight and out of mind” and ongoing engagement comes from the individual outreach and dedication of one teacher to another.

“It started with a personal connection,” Muller said.

Law, who is a Butler graduate, said he wants to represent Butler well in his capacity and work toward student success in all interactions.

“I want to make sure that I do everything in my power and the school does everything in its power to make the partnership a viable partnership where our kids benefit and want to move on into college,” he said.

For Ramsbottom, the success of the partnership is not determined by test scores or other more measurable indicators.
“It’s all about opportunity for meaningful engagement on both sides,” she said.

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