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.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.