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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.

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