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.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.