The Indianapolis Public Schools is asking for community feedback to address learning loss, student equity and financial stability. The discussions are part of a year-long community engagement process as the district tries to prevent its budget from going into the red by 2028.
Community members who were unable to attend an in-person or online meeting can fill out a survey in English or Spanish until Oct. 26.
Roughly a dozen people went to a meeting last week at the Burrello Family Center near Garfield Park. Attendee Alexis Tardy, a lead organizer with the recently formed EmpowerED Families advocacy group, said she was there to call for more equitable education in IPS.
“I am hoping to see more equitable funding for IPS so that we have adequate transportation, adequate programming for our kids, adequate supports for our teachers and our school leaders,” Tardy said. “I think there's a lot of work to do. And a lot of that has to do with investment in IPS so that IPS can adequately serve our students.”
Lawmakers approved an annual four percent increase of per student funding for IPS in the current two-year budget. But the district saw a cut in money for students in poverty, who often need more investment, such as transportation or being taught to speak English.
Equitable input opportunities?
Attendees were asked three main questions: what does excellence look like in IPS, what should IPS do differently, and what would it take for IPS to be a just and fair district.
One of the common comments that was brought up was the lack of equitable opportunities to provide community input. Some were dissatisfied by the district’s plans to hold the Monday night meeting with only five-days’ notice.
Attendees said IPS needs to be an active and consistent presence in communities in order to make the meetings equitable for more families, and determine their greatest needs. Others suggested that regularly providing childcare at district meetings could also help boost attendance.
Teachers want more support
Another theme at the meeting was the need for more support for teachers to increase teacher retention. Some said they lack resources to educate students. Suggested solutions included having smaller class sizes that allow teachers to make meaningful connections with students.
Although some of the meeting attendees were teachers, first grade teacher Michelle Moore said educators don’t feel like they’re being heard.
“I invited my teacher friends here and dishearteningly they said, ‘They won't listen, it doesn't matter,’” Moore said. “There's a big disconnect and it needs to be heard. The teachers are not being motivated to continue on.”
Moore said she knows of at least two teachers who have quit this year – one was a recent college graduate and the other was a seasoned teacher. She said teachers have learned to make do without certain things. But one thing they do need is support.
Moore said she’s worked non-stop in response to her class doubling in size this year.
“One thing too that comes along with needing more people, we need less administration,” Moore said. “Period. There are too many chiefs.”
Moore, the recent teacher of the year for School 65, wants a better strategy for how teachers are given support in the classroom to improve student academics.
“I sat down with my kids today to practice writing their name,” Moore said. “They don't know their letters. They don't know. So that's where I'm at.”
Attendees also voiced the needs for more mental health and behavior supports for students who have faced additional challenges during the pandemic.
IPS Board of Commissioners President Evan Hawkins said at last Thursday’s school board meeting that many parents and educators have shared concerns about the district’s proximity boundary enrollment policy. Families have long raised issue about how this is affluent and majority white neighborhoods have an advantage to attend some choice schools.
“Part of rebuilding a strong IPS and reimagining what this district looks like is responding to this particular issue,” Hawkins said. “It is our objective as a board to create a district where geographic boundaries don’t limit access, and that high-demand schools are located throughout the entire city, rather than in particular quadrants of our city. So we ask that you continue to use your voice, and also, that you will bear with us as we need to make sure that we address this issue equitably and strategically in a way that provides for the education of all the children within our IPS family. ”
IPS will host its last community conversation tonight at 6 p.m. A summary of findings presented at the community conversations will be publicly shared by the district in November.
The community will be able to provide feedback on a plan next spring and summer. School board commissioners will vote on a formal plan in July 2022.
Clarification: This story was updated to clarify comments made by Michelle Moore.