With a strategic plan and teacher pay overhaul, will a new era dawn for IPS?

Jubilant Indianapolis Public School Board members tonight hailed an aggressive strategic plan and $12 million in pay raises for teachers as a potential turning point for the city’s schools.

“When we heard what we were going to be able to do, I got chills,” board member Mary Ann Sullivan said. “We are breaking through so we can really be competitive.”

By 6-0 votes, the board approved the three-year strategic plan and a new two-year contract with its teachers union. Both will make big shifts in the way the district does business.

The pay hikes — up to 12 percent for first-year teachers, as much as 10 percent for those in mid-career and 2.9 percent for those at the top of the pay scale — will haul IPS up from the bottom when compared with the other 10 Marion County districts. The deal also speeds up by nine years how quickly teachers reach the top pay rate. They’ll now get there in 16 years instead of 25 years.

The raises go into effect immediately and are retroactive to July.

The district, which has been raided of some of its best teachers by township and suburban schools during a base pay freeze dating to 2009, now ranks third for starting pay in Marion County, just behind Speedway and Wayne Township.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said IPS would also rank in the top quarter among county school districts for pay for mid-career teachers.

“Tonight is a major milestone on our path to transformation and progress for IPS,” Ferebee said. “We have launched a strategic plan that outlines excellence for IPS over the next three years. We also have a teacher collective bargaining agreement with the Indianapolis Education Association that is a hallmark of our commitment to competitive compensation in the district.”

If that wasn’t enough, the board also named Eli Lilly and Company executive and former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Michael O’Connor to replace Caitlin Hannon, who resigned earlier this month. O’Connor was picked from three finalists interviewed on Wednesday.

But most of the attention was on teacher pay. About 500 teachers, roughly a quarter of the district’s teaching force, are expected to get an immediate bump up to a new minimum starting salary of $40,000 from the old minimum, $35,684.

I’m pretty happy with it,” said union President Rhondalyn Cornett. “It’s a good deal for teachers.”

Nearly all teachers will get a raise, plus those who take on a series of newly created leadership roles can earn from $5,000 up to as much as $18,300.

About 93 percent of teachers who attended the union ratification vote were in favor, Cornett said.

Teacher evaluation scores will play an increasingly critical role in who gets raises going forward. Only teachers rated effective will be eligible for raises, and the contract explicitly states that both sides expect about 15 percent of teachers to fall short, much more than the past two years.

“I have some concerns about the evaluation system, but not a lot,” said Ann Wilkins of the Indiana State Teachers Association, who helped negotiate the deal. “We’ll make sure it’s done properly.”

Even with money redirected from those not getting raises to those who are, Ferebee said IPS might not be able to sustain the new system after two years if it cannot move aggressively to cut costs. The strategic plan calls for a series of steps to save money, from selling real estate to using less electricity. Shifting more control to schools should also continue to reduce the need for as many central office administrators.

Ferebee said millions in cuts and other money-saving changes the district made over the past two years helped raise the money to cover the raises in the contract, but a projected $16 million cut in state aid meant more savings was needed going forward.

“We’re not going to get more money from the state,” board member Sam Odle said. “We’re going to get less money from the state.”

Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand For Children, said teacher pay raises and the strategic plan would help move the district toward what IPS parents the group works with have asked for: a guarantee of effective teachers in all classrooms, principals in all schools and schools in all neighborhoods.

Stand pushes for educational change in IPS, especially by organizing parents. Ohlemiller said the next challenge was making sure all the ideas presented tonight work over the next three years.

“Execution is key,” he said. “Plans on paper don’t change kids lives. But we can now point to definite steps this administration has taken to achieve these goals.”

Odle hailed the broader strategic plan as supporting ideas for change the board members have pushed for: greater school autonomy, better academic choices for students and spending focused sharply on the classroom.

“We want make sure we are giving more options to our students,” he said.


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.”