Survey shows divide in opinion about IPS

Students, parents and staff of Indianapolis Public Schools expressed strong confidence on a survey that the district has solid expectations and instruction but less than a majority were certain students come out ready for college and careers.

Community and business leaders, who have perhaps fewer direct connections to the schools, were more skeptical the district was doing a good job, however.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee touted the results of the survey, which garnered more than 5,800 responses, to the school board tonight. The surveys were part of his “listening” tour, which has included school visits and meetings with community leaders, since he arrived to take the superintendent’s post in September.

The state’s A to F grading system, Ferebee said, masks some of the district’s accomplishments. While about two-thirds of the district’s schools are rated D and F there is good teaching that is raising test scores at many schools, Ferebee said.

Rising scores are not always fully captured in the rating system, which is heavily based on passing percentages, he said.

“In many cases, there is quality instruction,” Ferebee said. “We are serving students well in that regard. But to external eyes, they mostly see our accountability results.”

But even parents, students and staff were less certain students left IPS ready for the world. Overall, 69 percent agreed the district had high expectations and 56 percent said instruction exceeds expectations but less than half of respondents — 46 percent — said IPS students were well prepared for college and the workforce.

The survey also rated school choice within the district as a major strength: two of the top five district attributes cited in the survey were the magnet program and choice in general. The others were dedicated teachers and staff, diversity in the schools and the community and quality support services ranging from academic assistance to food programs.

Among the district’s top challenges, the survey said, were problems with enforcing discipline for disruptive students, little parental involvement, underfunded programs and its negative reputation.

A desire for more athletic, art, music and after school programs was the top requested changes in the district cited by respondents. Other changes they wanted to see were better technology for students, and additional volunteer opportunities.

Ferebee said inequality in technology across schools was “a glaring need” his staff had also identified as a problem.

“We will be addressing the short and long term (technology) needs in our schools in response to our own observations but also the feedback we received from our customers and our stakeholders,” he promised.

To see the full survey results go here.

In a busy meeting, the board also:

  • Expanded its new preschool program to add 200 spots for four-year-olds by establishing 10 more preschool classes in seven schools. That means 13 schools will now offer preschool.
  • Passed a plan to use a federal grant to cover the cost of lunch, breakfast and snacks for all IPS students, no matter what their income. Already about 77 percent of IPS students are poor enough to receive free meals through the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. Now all students will be able eat for free. The program is designed to reduce the stigma of accepting a free meal for students in the high poverty school districts.
  • Was told by Ferebee that his reorganization of the central office has so far saved $1.7 million through cuts in public relations, academic and facilities offices.
  • Approved a retooled districtwide calendar for 2014-15 that begins Aug. 4, ends June 9 and gives IPS the option to make up snow days on planned days off school on Dec. 19, May 22 and spring break (March 23-27).
  • Eliminated 23 full- and part-time parent liaison positions. Most will be replaced by new full-time “parent educators,” a redefined job connecting parents with schools.
  • Approved a plan to allow KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory charter school to lease the former School 110 site.
  • Agreed to a memorandum of understanding with its teachers union to allow IPS teachers to seek $100,000 fellowships being offered by The Mind Trust to develop school turnaround models.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”