By Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee
Recently, I had the pleasure of observing several things that are encouraging; below are my notes.
Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School
Global Preparatory Academy at Riverside 44
I look forward to experiencing how several of our other schools are utilizing data, maximizing talent and engaging in thoughtful planning activities to ensure a successful second semester.
The following appeared in the October 30th edition of The Indianapolis Star as a Letter to the Editor from Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee:
As superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, my responsibility is to improve the quality of education for our students. Every day, our students, teachers and faculty work as diligently and with as much commitment as any group of people I’ve ever seen in all my years as an educator.
It is my belief all of us want the same thing — better opportunities for our young people, a stronger community and a thriving Indianapolis.
The IPS described by a political group in a recent letter to IndyStar, however, simply does not reflect who we are. Politics tends to create its own truths, this year perhaps more than others, but it is critical that our families, supporters and partners read the truth about our district.
IPS’ graduation rate for the 2012-13 school year was 68.3 percent with a waiver rate of 12.9 percent. For the most recent year we have state data, IPS’ graduation rate was 72.1 percent with a waiver rate of 9.45 percent. The awarding of general diplomas has decreased and the awarding of Core 40 diplomas has increased. The Core 40 diploma is more aligned with minimum college admission requirements.
While the debate continues about assigning letter grades to schools, one fact beyond debate is that 25 schools (nearly half of the district’s schools) advanced by one or more letter grade from 2012-13 to 2014-15, reducing the number of “F” schools by half.
Studies show that students who experience quality preschool instruction tend to perform better in early literacy skills than their peers who did not attend preschool. Since 2013-14, IPS preschool program enrollment has increased exponentially, adding more than 3,200 students districtwide. From 2012-13 to 2014-15, excluding preschool, district enrollment decreased by fewer than 500 students. The Oct. 23 letter to the editor neglected to mention that we’ve reversed the recent trend of IPS losing nearly 1,000 students a year.
Additionally, IPS has rewritten the book on financial transparency. After a thorough review of our budgeting practices, I discovered the district was overprojecting expenditures rather than reporting actual expenditures. It was my decision to make this fact known as part of our effort to restore public confidence in IPS.
In fact, our strategic budgeting approach recently allowed us to invest more than $20 million in additional employee compensation and refinance our mortgage bonds, saving taxpayers more than $17 million.
Despite drastic state funding cuts over the past five years totaling $58 million, our fiscal situation remains solid.
Finally, the idea that IPS can prosper without embracing change and by being unwilling to partner with others is asinine. We cannot address the challenges of 21st century education demands with antiquated thinking.
Despite inflammatory charges to the contrary, our Innovation Network Schools, serving IPS students and families, are 100 percent accountable to the IPS school board.
The school board I work with every day bears no resemblance to the one described in the recent letter to IndyStar. In fact, I respect them greatly for working collaboratively, and sometimes courageously, to establish what they believe to be the best policies and practices needed to improve student outcomes.
If you want to help improve the quality of education for our kids, then we welcome your suggestions, time and resources. If you want to be a part of the solution, the door is always open.
Early this morning, I received a message informing me that a current IPS student was fatally shot and another 14-year old male was injured by gunfire. This message – one of several that I have received over the past year – compelled me to draft the following statement:
I am troubled about the violence that is impacting our young people. Nearly each weekend, I receive a phone call about a student, former student, nearby student – or a young person who should be enrolled in school – who was involved in a senseless act of violence.
Our schools are a microcosm of our society and the neighborhoods in which we live. Often, what happens in our schools is a spillover of what is taking place in our neighborhoods, and most of our schools are neighborhood schools. It is a symbiotic relationship, that’s why working together is so vital to address our mutual challenges.
The rash of violence in our schools must be tackled from the outside in and the inside out. I firmly believe the behaviors we are seeing in schools here and across our nation have a direct correlation to what our young people are seeing and experiencing in our communities, particularly in our high-poverty areas.
We must all own the violence that is impacting our youth. We must acknowledge that they are replicating what they see. Now is not the time for finger pointing; now is the time to work seriously and collaboratively on the issue. It is my hope that, as a community, we will rally to build solutions to this urgent problem. In doing so, we will all benefit for years to come.
I was encouraged this week by a conversation with several community leaders around creating better educational opportunities for Indy’s youth. Within minutes, I heard that we all share the same vision for young people – one of promise, knowledge, opportunity and access.
Good intentions are congruent among our local business leaders, faith-based leaders, public officials, service providers, thought partners, and supporters. We all want to see our youth thrive in an environment where they are safe and feel understood. We all agree that we must inspire them to dream, encourage them to work hard, and show them the way.
If you are interested in learning about ways to become part of the solution, please send an email to email@example.com or call 317.226.4000.
Dr. Ferebee emailed this news to all staff on 11 January announcing the district's plans regarding teacher pay increases:
As you know, the district has been awaiting delayed ISTEP data from the state for quite a while in order to finalize evaluations and allocate teacher raises awarded from the 2015-16 bargaining agreement. With the start of the 2016 legislative session, there is proposed language to decouple any ISTEP testing results from teacher and principal evaluations for the 2014-15 school year. Both political parties have signaled strong support by quickly passing proposed bills through House and Senate committees. The IDOE and The Governor’s Office are also indicating support, so this legislation is likely to pass within the next few weeks.
Given these circumstances and the district’s interest in compensating teachers as soon as possible, IPS and IEA have agreed on a plan to move forward, anticipating that the aims of the proposed bills will soon become law. Human Resource Services will soon communicate specific guidance to principals for completing 2014-15 performance evaluations that will exclude IDOE metrics. Meanwhile, HR and the Finance Office are collaborating to generate processes for retroactive pay as quickly as possible.
While we are thrilled to be able to execute on our promises around teacher compensation, we also remain committed to ensuring accountability. We understand that, as it is necessary to consider several measures when assessing our students’ academic progress, we must also use a multi-faceted process for evaluating employee performance. We will continue to use multiple measures in our educator evaluation plans for this academic year; and we hope to roll out a new and improved approach to performance evaluation and talent development in the coming year.