These are the 11 IPS schools Ferebee is most worried about

School 93, one of IPS's most troubled schools that Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has targeted for extra support and close monitoring, saw its principal's contract not renewed by the school board for next year. (Scott Elliott)

Taking over in September as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools presented Lewis Ferebee with a daunting question: where to begin?

Two thirds of the schools were rated a D or F last year by the Indiana Department of Education.

IPS has many needs and lots of schools that Ferebee hopes to turn around. In fact, 38 of the district’s 65 schools are getting at least some level of extra scrutiny from Ferebee and his administrative team as part of their school improvement effort.

Even so, 11 IPS are on red alert, having been named “priority” schools because Ferebee considers them the most troubled. This is where the district is focusing its heaviest attention.

Big changes at the schools already have begun. Several of the 23 IPS administrators whose contracts were not renewed by the school board Tuesday were principals or assistant principals at priority schools.

All of the priority schools were rated an F by the state the past two years. But more concerning to Ferebee is that all of them saw low growth, no growth or even falling test scores. Each has also been identified by the Indiana Department of Education as in need of additional support.

Ferebee came to Indianapolis with a reputation as a school turnaround specialist. In his prior work in Greensboro and Durham, N.C., he has success grouping low performing schools under teams of administrators he led with a goal of raising test scores.

He is taking a similar approach in Indiana.

“We do have schools that have not performed well over an extended period of time we need to improve student outcomes there, he said. “I believe this approach will yield positive results for all our schools and students.”

Students at priority schools are regularly tested during the school year to assess progress and central office administrators are spending more time on those campuses. In March, the IPS school board will hear a report on the progress of the schools.

The 11 priority schools have a few common themes.

Most are neighborhood schools rather than magnet schools, which generally perform better in IPS. Two of them are the junior high school portion of combined junior-senior high schools. Ferebee last week spoke of his concern about grouping middle school age students with high school students and said the district would be examining its grade configurations.

Some of the elementary schools on the list were once good performers that have seen their test scores slide. A few have been long term low performers. Here’s a look:

John Marshall Junior High School

In 2012, the state reclassified IPS 6 to 12 and 7 to 12 high schools to separate middle and high school students. So each of those schools now receives two grades — one for high school students in grades 9 to 12 and one for middle school students.

The 7th and 8th grade students at John Marshall have earned consecutive F grades from the state since that shift, based on its very low test scores. More troubling is the trend line. Last year, just 18 percent of middle school students passed both English and math on ISTEP, a drop from 22 percent the prior year.

Northwest Junior High School

As with John Marshall, Northwest’s High School’s middle school classes collectively were rated an F the past two years. Its passing rate on ISTEP trended slightly up, to 23 percent passing from 18 percent the prior year, but those rates are very low.

School 14

Also called Washington Irving Elementary School, School 14 has seen a steady slide in its test performance over the past decade. A neighborhood school located just east of downtown, it was rated an A in 2005. It’s been rated a C three times in the past seven years, but it’s recent scores have been poor.

The school was rated an F the past two years and its passing rate on ISTEP is in a four-year decline. In fact, its 41 percent passing rate last year was School 14’s lowest in eight years.

School 42

Also called Elder W. Diggs Elementary School, School 42 is a neighborhood school on Indianapolis’ North side. It was mostly a C school that fell to an F in 2012 and has stayed there. The school’s 42 percent ISTEP passing rate has barely budged in the past eight years. Its highest rate was 45 percent passing in 2007 and lowest was 33 percent passing in 2009.

School 44

Also called Riverside Elementary School, School 44 is a neighborhood school located less than a mile from School 42 on the city’s North side. The school has not seen a grade above a D since 2005. Test scores at the school made a big drop from an already low 37 percent passing in 2011 to 25 percent last year.

School 51

Also called James Russell Lowell Elementary School, School 51 is a neighborhood school on the city’s Northeast side. It was an A school in 2007 and was mostly rated a C before it dropped to an F in 2012. School 51’s ISTEP passing rate of 32 percent has been mostly flat for eight years, with high of 35 percent passing in 2012 and a low of 27 percent in 2008.

School 58

Also called Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School, this neighborhood school on the city’s East side was earning decent grades for several years, including an A in 2010. But it has had three consecutive F grades since then. Its 44 percent ISTEP passing rate is well below the school’s 2008 high of 60 percent passing.

School 61

Also called Clarence Farrington Elementary School, School 61 is a neighborhood school located on the Northwest side of the city. This school’s grade has been in a steady decline. It dropped from an A in 2007 to a pair of C’s and then a D in 2011. The school has been rated an F since then.

The percent of students passing ISTEP at School 61 has hovered around 40 percent passing for eight years, with a low of 34 percent in 2008 and a high of 46 percent in 2009. Last year 42 percent passed ISTEP.

School 69

Also called Joyce Kilmer Elementary School and located on the North side of Indianapolis, it was an A in 2010 but has earned three straight F’s since then. The school made a good jump in test scores last year, to 30 percent passing ISTEP from 18 percent the year before, but it remains one of the district’s lowest performers. The school has not exceeded 35 percent passing ISTEP in six years.

School 93

Also called George H. Fisher Elementary School, School 93 is another school that has seen a reversal of fortune. Located on Indianapolis’ Northeast side, School 93 had two A’s and a B between 2005 and 2009. But since then, it has earned three consecutive F’s. Just 30 percent of School 93’s students passed ISTEP last year, down dramatically from 53 percent passing in 2008.

School 103

Also called Francis Scott Key Elementary School, School 103 has been a long time poor performer on state tests. Located on the city’s Northeast side, School 103 has earned a D or F six of the last eight years and an F for the past three years. Its grade has never been higher than a C in that period. More alarming, its ISTEP passing rate has been trending down for six years to 22 percent passing last year from 47 percent in 2009.

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.”