In some ways, the debut of the fourth edition of the annual School Chooser Guide for Indianapolis is old news, but not for parents looking for a school for their children this year.
“Why do we have to do this year after year after year? Because the families change year after year after year,” said Judi Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the website GreatSchools.org, to a small crowd that gathered at Indianapolis’s Central Library today. “This is an ongoing community effort and it has to be embedded in the community forever because there’s new people every year looking for new opportunities.”
Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and GreatSchools, a non-profit organization that offers profiles of more than 200,000 schools across the country, collaborated on the latest version of the 160-page paper guide. Indianapolis boasts the highest percentage of families who use the organization’s website, according to Goldberg. About 165,000 unique visitors looked at schools in Indianapolis last year, including some who didn’t live in the city.
Lesvi De La Cruz, 27, was one of those people back in 2012.
De La Cruz’s son, Jason, sat out two weeks of school during Chicago’s teacher strike. So when she decided to move to Indianapolis, she did a quick Google search to find the best school for her now eight-year-old son, and she immediately stumbled across GreatSchools.org.
“I looked online because I didn’t know anyone here in Indianapolis, and it sent me right away to the GreatSchools website,” De La Cruz said. “It was very efficient because I just put in my address and a lot of the neighborhood schools came out, and I was able to make an informed choice.”
She landed on Indiana Math and Science Academy, a charter school on the city’s Northwest side, because she liked the school’s focus on science and math, and she was impressed that it was one of the few schools rated seven out of 10 near her new home in Lafayette Square.
“By where I lived, that rate was really good,” she said. “Most of (the neighborhood schools) are under that.”
De La Cruz later transferred Jason to the new Christel House Academy West when she moved to Haughville, just west of downtown.
“I was just lucky enough to have it open up in my backyard,” she said. “The classes are very small, so he gets a lot of individual attention from the teacher. He’s a leader, so he’s definitely in a place where he can show his potential.”
Christel House West doesn’t have a profile in the School Chooser Guide, but most of the city’s schools do. More than 600 schools are featured in Indianapolis’s guide.
“Because (Indianapolis) has worked so hard to get 97 percent of its schools, it’s a really useful tool,” Goldberg said. “The tool is obviously driven by the information that you get. Each school has their own school account that they can go in and add all of the different touchy-feely things that parents really care about – all that stuff that isn’t recorded because it’s not academic-focused, but it’s that stuff that really matters to parents.”
GreatSchools initially worked with advocacy group Stand For Children to create the guide, but eventually transitioned to the mayor’s office.
“They have such a wonderful connection into the community,” Goldberg said. “It’s a nice neutral way to give good information to parents.”
GreatSchools was founded 25 years ago in San Francisco. The teacher who launched the first guide wanted families who moved to Northern California to be able to learn more easily what they needed to know to choose schools for their children. The guide later became a website and began adding information about schools in cities across the country.
But few cities have extensive paper guides like Indianapolis. GreatSchools has only done that in cities with extensive school choice options. Indianapolis has 11 school districts, charter schools sponsored by the mayor, the state and Ball State University, and an array of private schools that accept publicly-funded tuition vouchers.
The School Chooser Guide provides information such as school addresses, principal names, test scores and graduation rates. The guide, which is available in English and Spanish, is distributed at all Indianapolis public libraries, Kroger stores and Indy Parks locations for free.
“We didn’t really change it much this year,” Goldberg said. “We finally landed on a pretty good combination of what parents need to know.”
Ballard said summer is the best time for parents to weigh their options when it comes to choosing a school for their child.
“Our highest quality schools fill up very quickly,” he said. “Parents need to know how to sign up.”