by Dr. Aleesia Johnson, Superintendent
At Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), the one constant throughout the pandemic has been our dedication to providing a quality education to students districtwide, regardless of where students are learning.
Like many school districts across the country, the back and forth of being in-person or virtual — depending on the ways COVID was ravaging cities, states and communities — contributed to learning losses for students many schools and districts are still struggling to recoup.
At IPS, we understood early that the key to recouping learning losses and attendance, and improving test scores, would hinge on our willingness and ability to be nimble — to pivot, change course and adapt when the need arose. The success of our students depended on it.
In the fall of 2021 during my State of the District speech, I said:
“There’s no doubt we’re living in an unprecedented time … I know it sounds strange to say it now, as we’re still coping with this pandemic, but I believe we have a singular opportunity to do some things for our children, for our community, that we’ve never had the chance to do. And I refuse to see us miss this chance.”
During the pandemic, IPS developed a plan to face the day-to-day challenges head on while also looking toward our future by launching our Rebuilding Stronger initiative, which is designed to reinvent, rebuild, redesign and rethink IPS’ family of schools. The initiative is grounded in long-term planning and strategy guided by input from a variety of IPS stakeholders — students, staff, parents, alumni, community partners, local legislators and others.
To meet our day-to-day challenges during the pandemic, we went to work implementing change — adding systems and protocols to assist teachers in helping students reach their goals. We adopted engaging and proven curricula and put added resources into schools across the district.
Over the 2021-22 school year, these systems and protocols started to work. We saw test scores rise, daily attendance and grades improve; there was an overwhelming sense — and the data to back it up — that we were moving in the right direction.
Some of our 2021–22 achievement highlights include:
Freshmen on Track (FOT) Program Improves Attendance, Grades
IPS is addressing our graduation rates by focusing on incoming freshmen through an online dashboard, tracking how these students fair using a regular cadence of reports. By digging deep into data (from grades to attendance) and creating FOT teams at every high school, we’re able to intercede when failure is evident, and before it’s too late.
As a result, our Freshman on Track rate has grown from 65% to 84% in one academic year. Our goal is 87% for the 2022–23 school year.
Because of the success of the Freshman on Track program, we’ve instituted a Sophomore on Track program during the 2021-2022 school year that yielded a 75% Sophomore on Track rate for the first semester.
Student Athletes Making Plays in the Classroom
At IPS, we’re focused on developing student-athletes across the district by putting additional resources into study tables and other academic resources. At direct-managed high schools, data from Fall 2021 shows our athletes have significantly higher grades, higher GPA by .42 points, better attendance at 90%, and lower failure rates by four percentage points than in years past.
For Fall 2022, we are working to ensure our study tables will better support the academic development of our student athletes. We will be matching tutors with student-athletes for specific subjects of need and will take steps to improve tracking of each student-athlete’s time spent in study tables to determine how it correlates with academic improvements.
New Attendance/Absenteeism Strategy Moves the Needle
IPS saw improvements in attendance and a reduction in absenteeism as a result of several key moves, including the creation of a discipline dashboard to track missing time, creating a team to monitor attendance, and implementing an intervention strategy designed to help students stay in school.
As a result, our average daily attendance rate improved from 84% to 88% — with 76% of schools seeing significant improvements.
Future Ready Pathways Prepare Students for the 3E’s
IPS enhanced our Future Ready Pathways, working with more than 30 community partners and employers supporting work-based learning activities and events across Future Ready pathways at our (district-managed) high schools.
As a result, more than 130 high school students participated in immersive paid and unpaid work-based learning experiences. These opportunities usually take place during junior and senior year, which allows students to transfer skills learned in the classroom to the workplace setting.
We have spent the 2021-2022 designing the tiered support for Emerging Schools, which are schools that have three consecutive semesters of F state-designated letter grades and are at the bottom of NWEA metrics.
This support includes partnership with CT3- Center for Transformative Teacher Training and University of Virigina Partners for Leadership and Education (UVA-PLE). Both organizations have a record of accomplishment of success in similar school districts. CT3 is recognized for its anti-racist approach to pedagogy. PLE is known for school district transformation.
The goal is that these schools rapidly accelerate student outcomes and increase teacher retention.
The 2021–22 school year ended with some major accomplishments for the district and, in most cases, data showing that we’re back above pre-pandemic levels. While we have had some success, we know we still have a steep climb to reach the goals we’ve set.
While the summer is a time of rest and relaxation for our students and families, it’s a time for continued planning and strategizing for IPS’ central office staff and administrators who are still meeting and reviewing data to determine plans to capitalize on the gains made this year and how we can surpass them for the upcoming school year.
I am proud of our district and what we’ve been able to accomplish during this pandemic. I am proud of the work we’re doing through our Rebuilding Stronger Initiative, our 2025 Strategic Plan and through our 2025 Board Goals, which will all lead us to a bigger and better IPS for current and future generations.
It’s time to continue this work together!