Broad strategic plan would dramatically overhaul IPS in 3 years

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students work on spelling words at IPS School 27, a Center for Inquiry magnet school.

Indianapolis Public Schools today unveiled a three-year strategic plan to reshape the school district’s management, spending and services with a goal of better academic offerings that are accessible to all students.

The plan, which the school board will discuss at a 6 p.m. meeting, is ambitious. It includes 22 top level goals among 70 specific efforts to make changes.

The strategic plan covers a wide range of initiatives, from changing the grade configurations of schools, to surveying students and families about the services they receive to starting a process that could lead to asking voters for a tax hike to help modernize some of its school buildings.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district crafted the proposal though community meetings that led to committees formed to work on aspects of the plan.

“A lot of this is very new and innovative,” he said. “A lot of this is where we want to go. We still have to work through the details of how we get there.”

Some of the bigger proposals include:

Fixing school buildings. The district would craft a plan to modernize school buildings that could start in the 2017-18 school year. It could include a referendum asking voters to approve a new bond issue.

“A referendum is on the table,” Ferebee said. “We haven’t done a bond in a while, but we’re just trying to collect property taxes right now.”

More freedom for schools. Schools would begin to take more control over their budgets, a priority for the board that has been under discussion for months, starting next year.

Shifting middle school students out of high schools. By 2017, the goal is to have a new plan for the grade configurations of schools, including a “new vision” for middle grades. Ferebee has said he prefers K-8 elementary schools over stand-alone middle schools or grouping middle grades with high schools.

Magnet school changes. A plan to redesign the district’s magnet school system in 2016. The plan could include expanding successful programs, eliminating others or adding new magnet options Ferebee said.

Making high schools better. There will be a big push to improve high schools so that more students take advanced classes, graduate and earn honors diplomas.

“We need to do a better job there in our high schools,” Ferebee said.

New ideas for how to pay teachers and assign them to schools. Changes to the system for assigning and paying teachers that are designed to more evenly spread experienced and novice teachers across the district’s 66 schools.

Hiring more diverse teachers and keeping them. The district aims to double the number of teachers it retains for the next year by 2017 and triple the number of minority teachers. The district’s teaching staff, “does not match or align with the diversity of student populations,” Ferebee said.

New opportunities for teachers. New career pathways, such as a new “lead teacher” job, should be in place by 2016-17.

A happier workplace. The district will set a goal of being ranked as one of the city’s “best places to work” by 2018.

Cutting spending everywhere possible. A priority would be to save money through a series of moves, such as cutting energy consumption, reducing the amount of supplies that are kept in a warehouse and automating tasks wherever possible.

Ferebee said he does not have a projected dollar savings amount if the plan were to succeed.

Stronger ties with charter schools. More partnerships with charter schools and other outside groups to try to overhaul the district’s lowest scoring schools. For one thing, Ferebee said, he hoped to fill up empty school space through partnerships rather than see charter schools building new.

“My goal is we don’t build another new school within IPS boundaries until we maximize space we have now,” he said.

Less movement for students. As much as possible, the goal will be to reduce how often children change schools. Ferebee said he hoped to work with the next mayor to find ways to stabilize housing so families move less and to use the district’s busing system, when possible, to reduce transfers.

“We’ve seen schools where you wouldn’t have a student in fifth or sixth grade that started there in kindergarten or first grade,” he said. “That should not be the case.”

A focus on the individual. More students should have “individualized education plans,” such as those used for students in special education, and teachers should have “professional learning plans” by 2016-17.

Welcoming English-language learners. IPS will establish a “newcomer center” to support families that are still learning English as a new language.

Together, Ferebee said, he hoped all of the ideas in the plan would lead to a new image of IPS in the minds of people who live in Indianapolis and better serve the students who attend its schools.

“How we define success will be very different,” he said, “than how we do it today.”

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.”