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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.