April 26, 2018

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners convened its Board Action Session tonight where topics included transportation recommendations for the 2018-19 school year; a third-quarter finance update for the current 2017-18 academic year; an update on School Quality Review; and internal shifts for some IPS school administrators and district leaders.

The following is a deeper look at those agenda items.

2018-19 Transportation Model

Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee and IPS Transportation Director Manny Mendez provided Commissioners a full recap on community outreach surrounding the 2018-19 proposed transportation models.

In February and March, the district held community meetings and distributed an online survey to receive input from families and community members around proposed transportation options for the 2018-19 school year.

Participants were asked to consider the following:

  • Adjusted start and end times that could impact all students.
  • The extension of walk zones for high school students from 0.4 to 0.7 tenths of a mile.
  • The utilization of high schools as bus stops.

Feedback from the initial survey included:

  • 54 percent agreed with later start times for middle and high school students but demonstrated concern for how such a change would impact factors like student employment and child care.
  • 51 percent supported the expansion of walk zones from 0.4 to 0.7 tenths of a mile and they also supported the suggested utilization of high schools as bus stops so long as safety concerns were addressed. 

After analyzing feedback from the initial survey, two revised options were presented. At the March Board Action Session, Commissioners asked that additional information be collected on the two options discussed and for findings to be presented at a future Board meeting. As requested, a second survey was distributed in April. For one week, the survey was made available in English and Spanish with more than 2,100 responses received and reviewed.

The options presented to community members on the April survey were as follows: 

Option A:

  • High schools would run on the first tier.
  • Elementary schools would run on the second tier.
  • Innovation schools can extend past the first-tier PM bell time.
  • A 20-minute breakfast would be offered prior to the first bell.

Option B:

  • A small adjustment to the second and third tiers would allow an opportunity to pair buses in all three tiers.
  • High schools would run on the first tier.
  • Elementary schools would run on second and third tiers.
  • Innovation schools can extend past PM bell times on first and second tiers.
  • A 20-minute breakfast would be offered prior to the first bell.
Option B

Overall, only 31 percent of respondents favored Option A and 69 percent favored Option B.

IPS family and community members shared feedback on the late elementary PM bell times that were presented and they noted families with children at different schools could be impacted by both options. Additionally, respondents believed students were spending too much time away from home with both Options A and B.

With that feedback in mind, Mendez recommended a new two-tiered option at tonight’s Action Session:


The new two-tiered option allows:

  • Better pairing opportunities for efficient use of resources.
  • Operationally, it provides stability during the AM tier.
  • This two-tiered system balances out schools with extended days to allow pairing.

Impacts of implementation:

  • Only 22 percent of schools will experience a 10 minute or greater shift in bells times.
  • High schools and Middle schools, will experience a 10 minute adjustment to their PM bell.
  • Innovation schools will work independently with transportation on bell times to allow pairing. 

ACTION:  The Board of School Commissioners approved the proposed model with an unanimous vote of 7-0.

Quarterly Finance Update

Chief Financial Manager Weston Young presented a finance update for the third quarter of the 2017-18 school year. The update highlighted the current status of district funds, financial management projects and priorities, and other initiatives currently in progress.

In the current federal, state and local education funding climate, revenues are not keeping up with the expenditures currently allocated for staffing and other resources. The district must be even more diligent in seeking additional funding in order to sustain and continue attracting, acquiring and maintaining adequate staff and resources that support students’ needs.

Over the past four years, amidst these fiscal pressures, IPS has exhibited a desire to be a leader, both locally and nationally, by intentionally leveraging its resources to better serve its school communities above and beyond what is required to be in compliance.

Overall, the district continues to maintain financial and operational transparency, provide timely financial updates to stakeholders, and communicate progress on new initiatives while continuing to invest in strategic priorities.

The district is aggressively pursuing tactics that will generate $22.4M in budget reductions and conserve funds during the 2018-19 school year.

Budget cut areas

If the referenda passes in November, the district will unwind some of the cuts and make restorations in many areas. This would include working with the collective bargaining units to lift pay freezes and address cost of living increases for all staff.

School Quality Review

IPS Deputy Superintendent for Academics, Aleesia Johnson, reviewed the current School Quality Review (SQR) process and solicited feedback from the IPS Board of School Commissioners. 

Six schools have been identified and will receive an SQR from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) in May based on having two consecutive ‘F’ grades for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. They are:

  1. Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School
  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58
  3. Clarence Farrington School 61
  4. James Russell Lowell School 51
  5. Eleanor Skillen School 34
  6. Paul I. Miller School 114

By contrast, IPS conducted its own SQR in the Fall of 2017, shortly after the data was released, at five schools that met the district’s qualifying criteria. The state observed the district’s process and determined it was a satisfactory alternative to a state-initiated review. 

Those schools include:

  • Washington Irving School 14
  • Louis B. Russell School 48
  • James Whitcomb Riley School 43
  • George S. Buck School 94
  • Harshman Middle School

While the state looks strictly at letter grades when determining which schools to target for SQR, the district considers several factors when reviewing schools, including how a school’s scores have grown.

IPS will announce schools that qualify for the district’s 2017-18 SQR in late Summer/early Fall when this year’s academic data is released.

Commissioners Approve Internal Shifts for IPS School Administrators and District Leaders

Also during tonight’s Board Action Session, Commissioners approved appointments of several longtime district educators and employees to serve in new positions. Central Services appointments are geared to better align district supports to schools and will reduce administrative costs.

Here’s a brief look at each appointment and the employees selected to fill these roles:

Deputy Superintendent for Academics — Aleesia Johnson

Since September 2017, Johnson has led key academic functions in an interim capacity while also maintaining her position as IPS’ innovation officer. In her new role, she will:

  • Continue to lead the work of the district’s Academics Division.
  • Set the vision for and oversee the implementation of academic strategies that lead to increased student academic outcomes and post-secondary success based on the district’s 3Es (preparing students for enrollment in a two- or four-year college or university, enlistment in the military or employment at a livable wage upon graduation).

Portfolio Officer — Jamie VanDeWalle

Jamie VanDeWalle

VanDeWalle has served as director of innovation strategy (a grant-funded position) since February 2016. The position expands VanDeWalle’s previous scope of work to now include the responsibilities of the innovation officer role vacated by Aleesia Johnson. She will:

  • Continue leading the development and execution of the district’s strategy as it relates to Innovation Network Schools.
  • Lead the district’s efforts in transitioning expanded autonomy and flexibility to schools.
  • Support the evaluation of schools’ performance to inform the composition of the district’s family of schools.

This position is 80 percent grant-funded.

Performance & Continuous Improvement Officer — Andrew Strope

Andrew Strope

Since 2016, Strope has served as director of special projects for innovation. He assumed additional responsibilities in December 2017 upon the departure of the director of research, evaluation, and assessment. The efforts associated with both positions will collapse into this new role, wherein Strope will:

  • Design and oversee the implementation of a strategic approach to the research, evaluation and assessment functions of the district.
  • Develop systems and tools to track progress toward district goals, and provide analyses that enable district leaders to have a deeper understanding of the landscape and progress to goals.
  • Provide data and develop a framework to support the district academic leadership team in the development, achievement and maintenance of high-quality educational programs and services.

In addition to district leadership roles, Commissioners also appointed several longtime educators as school principals:

  • Jean Ely is the new principal at Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58. (She has served as interim principal at Eliza A. Blaker School 55 for the 2017-18 school year.) Throughout Ely’s career, she has worked as a teacher (specializing in Title 1) and a school administrator as assistant and interim principal. She has held positions at Wendell Phillips School 63, Carl Wilde School 79 and Elder W. Diggs School 42, among others.
  • Arturo Rodriguez is the new coordinator for the Newcomer Program. This program is designed to help refugee and immigrant students, who know little to no English, thrive in the classroom. It’s also focused on supporting the families who are adapting to their new environment. Rodriguez, who specializes in English Language Learning and most recently served as assistant principal at William Penn School 49, has worked in various capacities within IPS since 2008. He also has been an educator in both the Gary and Terre Haute school districts, as well as in Las Vegas. 
  • Paul Wirth is the new principal at Christian Park School 82. With an extensive background in education, which began in North Carolina, Wirth has served as principal at Wendell Phillips School 63 since September 2014. During his tenure, he helped the school increase academic achievement in standardized testing through ISTEP and IREAD.

All district officials begin their new roles effective immediately. School principals will begin their new roles in July 2018.