Looking at what makes IPS's 10 A schools achieve

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis Public Schools has a lot of troubled schools, but it also has several gems.

New Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has made addressing the problems at the district’s worst-scoring schools a high priority. In February he identified 38 of the district’s 65 schools — more than half the district — for extra attention from the district office because of poor test scores and low grades on the state’s A to F grading system.

Most of those schools have been rated D and F for at least two years. Ferebee has put a subset of 11 schools on red alert because of consecutive F grades or declining test performance.

And yet, IPS also has some excellent schools.

Of the 27 schools that aren’t under special monitoring for low grades, 10 of them were rated an A by the state last year.

The group of A-rated IPS schools also defies some expectations. For example, while most of them are magnet schools, not all of them are, as is sometimes assumed. In fact, three are neighborhood schools.

Magnet schools sometimes, but not always, look dramatically different than typical IPS schools when it comes to demographics. As a district, IPS has huge demographic differences from suburban, rural and even other urban districts in Indiana. Some of those differences mean steep challenges.

Consider these districtwide averages:

  • 84 percent of IPS students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch. For a family of four, that means annual income less than $43,500.
  • 79 percent of the district’s enrollment is minority. Black children make up about half the student body, while hispanic students account for about 20 percent.
  • 13 percent of those enrolled in IPS are learning English as a second language. This number is fueled in part by the district’s fast-growing hispanic population.
  • 18 percent of IPS students need special education services.

Compare those numbers to the state averages: 49 percent statewide qualify for free or reduced price lunch, 28 percent are minorities, 5 percent are learning English as a second language and 14 percent receive special education services.

Among the A schools are a few that stand out as having atypical demographics for IPS. Four of the schools, for example, have far fewer poor children and students learning English as a second language than most IPS schools. But even some of those schools have tough challenges, such as more kids in special education than most IPS schools.

Here’s a snapshot of all 10 IPS A schools:

School 90: Making consistent test score growth

Also known as Ernie Pyle Elementary School, School 90 is perhaps the district’s greatest neighborhood school success story.

A classroom at IPS's A-rated School 90. (Alan Petersime)
School 90 has had some of the most consistently strong test score growth in the state. (Alan Petersime)

The school for 360 students in K to 6 technically was given a magnet theme two years ago but basically remains a neighborhood school serving mostly children who live nearby on the Northwest side.

School 90 has had a remarkable five-year run of improving test performance despite some difficult demographic challenges. It has been rated an A school for five consecutive years, including twice being honored by the Indiana Department of Education for ranking among the state’s best schools for test score growth.

The student body is nearly all high poverty — 95 percent qualify for free and reduced price lunch. It has a huge number of students learning English as a second language at 28 percent. Minority and special education enrollment both exceed the districtwide averages.

But the school, led by Principal Mark Pugh, has focused on enforcing consistent discipline and building an elite teaching team.

The results have been impressive: four straight years of ISTEP gains have raised the school’s passing rate to 84 percent last year — more than 10 points above the state average — from 55 percent in 2009.

School 79: Managing a changing student body

Few IPS schools have seen as much dramatic change as School 79, also known as Carl Wilde Elementary School, and the school has handled it masterfully.

School 79 has adapted to an influx of immigrant students. (Scott Elliott)
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 79 has adapted to an influx of immigrant students. (Scott Elliott)

Over a period of about five years, the school went from having so few foreign language speakers that it didn’t even have a full time language specialist on site to a school with more than half its enrollment still learning English as a second language.

The change was fueled by an influx of immigrant families, mostly Hispanic but also from southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Principal Joyce Akridge responded by seeking training for her staff and herself — she earned a certification as a teacher of English as a second language from IUPUI in the process. The work has paid off.

After consecutive F’s in 2005 and 2006, the school has steadily improved and is now one of IPS’s most consistently high performers, having earned 3 straight A’s.

Besides having 52 percent of students still learning English, the school is also 93 percent poor and 96 percent minority.

School 79 is a neighborhood school but word is spreading about its success, which has enrollment, currently at 725 students in grades K to 6, on the rise. The school is located on the city’s Northwest side Last year 60 percent of its students passed ISTEP.

School 88: Making a fast turnaround under Project Restore

School 88 last year instituted Project Restore, a program invented by a pair of IPS teachers. (Scott Elliott)
School 88 last year instituted Project Restore, a program invented by a pair of IPS teachers. (Scott Elliott)

Also known as Anna Brochhausen Elementary School, School 88 serves 330 students in grades K to 6 and is located on the East side. It had been struggling with three consecutive C’s before it fell to an F in 2012. That led IPS to expand its successful Project Restore program to the school. The program was developed by two School 99 teachers, who helped lead that school’s turnaround.

At School 88, the one year turnaround was tremendous, to 56 percent passing ISTEP last year from 37 percent in 2012. It’s grade jumped to an A from an F.

The school is more poor than the rest of IPS, with 90 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunch, and has more children in special education than the average IPS school. But it also has few English language learners at just 2 percent of its enrollment.

Crispus Attucks High School: Reborn as a medical magnet school

Crispus Attucks is a medical magnet high school with a storied history. (Scott Elliott)
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Crispus Attucks is a medical magnet high school with a storied history. (Scott Elliott)

Located downtown, Crispus Attucks has a storied history as the city’s highly regarded all black high school before integration. It was converted back to a high school from a middle school in 2006 and given a medical magnet theme.

The school serves grades 6 to 12, with about 372 students in high school and another 775 in middle school. Like several of the district’s magnet schools, it has some demographic advantages over most IPS schools, such as very low percentages of students in special education (4 percent) and learning English as a second language (5 percent).

Crispus Attucks jumped from a D to an A in 2012 and held the higher grade again this year. The school’s passing rate on end of course exams held steady last year at a solid 80 percent. Middle school students have not fared as well, dropping from a D to an F this year with 54 percent passing ISTEP.

School 74: Spanish immersion has success

Located on the East side, School 74 is a Spanish immersion magnet school with about 288 students in grades K to 6. Also known as Theodore Potter Elementary School, its grade jumped from a D in 2012 to an A in 2013, but it was the D that was an aberration. School 74 has earned an A in five of the last eight years.

School 74  is a Spanish immersion school. (Scott Elliott)
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 74 is a Spanish immersion school. (Scott Elliott)

Although it’s a magnet school, enrollment is about average for IPS for poverty (88 percent) and minorities (92 percent). But it has particular challenges, with almost twice as many children in special education (24 percent) than the average IPS school and a huge 41 percent of children learning English as a second language.

Given those numbers, School 74 is more comparable to IPS neighborhood schools than to other magnet schools but it has far better academic performance than a typical neighborhood school.

Since 2011, the school’s ISTEP passing rate has jumped to 82 percent — nine points above the state average — from 54 percent.

School 56: A Montessori school that overcomes challenges

Also known as Francis W. Parker Elementary School, this North side school is one of two Montessori-theme elementary magnet schools that are rated an A.

School 56 is a Montessori school on the North side. (Scott Elliott)
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 56 is a Montessori school on the North side. (Scott Elliott)

Serving 280 students in grades K to 8, School 56 was rated an F two years ago. It’s one of just three K to 8 schools in IPS. Ferebee last month said he felt the K to 8 design might better serve middle school students than 7 to 12 community high schools and 6 to 12 magnet high schools.

School 56, demographically, looks more like a neighborhood school than most IPS magnet schools Its high poverty (88 percent) and minority (90 percent) enrollment are both above the district averages and it has very high number of students (32 percent) in special education.

The school’s scores, however, compare well with other magnet schools with far fewer kids in those categories. School 56 has seen a three-year gain in the percent of students passing ISTEP to 78 percent passing last year — exceeding the state average — from 59 percent in 2011.

School 91: Putting together a string of A’s

Also known as Rousseau McClellan Elementary School, School 91 is another a Montessori school on the North side, serving 462 students in grades K to 8.

School 91 is a Montessori school on the North side. (Scott Elliott)
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 91 is a Montessori school on the North side. (Scott Elliott)

After that, it has little in common with its A-rated Montessori sister school.

School 91 has considerable demographic advantages over the typical IPS school, with far fewer high poverty students (55 percent). It is below the district average for students learning English as a second language (9 percent) and minority students (63 percent) but does have an unusually large percentage of students in special education (24 percent).

Test performance has been strong and getting stronger. School 91 has earned seven A’s over the past eight years. Its 82 percent passing rate on ISTEP in 2013 was above the state average, its highest rate in a decade and a seven-point jump over 2012.

School 2: Center for Inquiry is enjoying success

School 2 is a Center For Inquiry-themed magnet school located downtown. (Scott Elliott)
School 2 is a Center For Inquiry-themed magnet school located downtown. (Scott Elliott)

Located downtown, School 2 is one of IPS’s three Center for Inquiry schools. The schools are overseen by Chris Collier, who was part of a group of teachers in 1991 who created the original CFI curriculum at School 92.

CFI borrows the inquiry approach to study from science, in which students solve problems using experimentation, and applies it to all subjects. At School 2, the CFI concept has been effective. The school for 247 students in grades K to 8 has earned an A or B for five consecutive years and its passing rate on ISTEP is on a five year upward trend and exceeded the state average, reaching 82 percent last year.

But demographically, School 2 does not look much like most IPS schools.

It is well below the district averages for the percent of students who are poor (43 percent), minority (40 percent) or learning English as a second language (4 percent). However, the schools does have more special education students (20 percent) than average.

School 84: Nationally recognized as a top magnet school

School 84, a Center For Inquiry magnet school, was named the nation's best elementary magnet school in 2011. (Scott Elliott)
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 84, a Center For Inquiry magnet school, was named the nation’s best elementary magnet school in 2011. (Scott Elliott)

Another CFI school, School 84 is located in the North side and has outdone it CFI sister schools with five consecutive A’s. And with 92 percent of its students passing ISTEP, School 84 is one of the highest scoring elementary schools int the city. In 2013 it reached its highest ISTEP passing rate of the decade.

School 84 is also an example of a magnet school that tends to draw a considerably more wealthy enrollment than the most schools in IPS. When it comes to poverty, the school looks almost suburban, with just 23 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch, when compared to typical IPS neighborhood schools.

While the school has a higher than average percentage of kids in special education (27 percent), it is also well below the IPS averages for minority children (30 percent) and children learning English as a second language (1 percent).

Even so, its academic performance has gained national notice. In 2011, School 84 was named national elementary school of the year by the Magnet Schools Association.

Sidener Academy for High Ability Students: Indiana’s top rated elementary school

IPS's Sidener Academy for High Ability Students is the state's highest scoring elementary school on ISTEP. (Scott Elliott)
IPS’s Sidener Academy for High Ability Students is the state’s highest scoring elementary school on ISTEP. (Scott Elliott)

This school for students who test as gifted is perhaps IPS’s most unique magnet school. It serves  324 students in grades 2 to 7 and has earned four straight A’s since it opened in 2008.

The test performance of the school is truly remarkable, even for a school that was designed for gifted kids. Last year, Sidener saw 99.6 percent pass ISTEP, ranking it No. 1 in the state. That means it had a higher percentage of kids pass than any of the wealthiest suburban schools in the state.

But, of course, Sidener has special advantages over its IPS peers. Besides serving exclusively gifted students, the school has far less poverty (58 percent) than most IPS schools and fewer students who are minority (56 percent) or in special education (6 percent). The school has virtually no students who are learning English as a second language at less than one percent.

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.”