Indianapolis Schools Initiatives Are Transforming Education for Its Students

Written by Jason Thomas for www.schoolsk-12.com

In the fall of 2005, the Indianapolis schools unveiled the first of several educational improvement initiatives, making 24 new small schools on the campuses of five former high schools. Each campus has four-to-six learning communities of no more than 400 students each. This is a vast difference from traditional schools that generally have between 1,200 to more than 2,000 students.
 
The smaller school atmosphere offers Indianapolis schools students a more intimate learning environment, where their needs are better addressed (including special needs students). Students are offered the core classes of English, math, social studies and science, as well as elective coursework. All on-campus small school students, lessening costs for the district and providing more facilities for the small schools, share common spaces, such as the cafeteria, gym and media center.
 
The Indianapolis schools spent a great deal of time reviewing student data, such as achievement, test scores and retention.  Additionally, the Indianapolis schools hosted several public forums to give students and parents input on their needs for change. It is hoped by all that the small schools will improve student academic, social and behavioral performance, as well as reduce the dropout rate and connect students in a more personal way with school.
 
Now, the Indianapolis schools officials are in the midst of their most aggressive initiative to boost the reading skills of all students. Special emphasis has been placed on students to be reading at or above grade level by third grade. The Indianapolis schools created a Literacy Office, which has already partnered with the National Urban Alliance to conduct a needs assessment throughout the Indianapolis schools, provided reading awareness training for teachers, helped to develop a district-wide reading plan, and worked with educators in implementing the plans. To date, the program has been so successful that other school districts across the nation visit to see the program in action.
 
Teachers at all levels within the Indianapolis schools are undergoing intensive staff development in math and science, another ongoing initiative. The training is designed to help teachers identify and use various and appropriate teaching strategies, so that students can develop a deeper understanding of the math and science concepts. All graduating students in the Indianapolis schools are required to complete three years of math with algebra as the base course and three years of science.
 
Lastly, the Indianapolis schools are offering full-day kindergarten at each of its elementary schools to better prepare the children for the rigors of academic life at subsequent grade levels.
 
The Indianapolis schools initiatives are being funded through various foundations and partners. Approximately $1.6 million came from the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Community organizations and businesses, such as the Lilly Endowment, has partnered with the Indianapolis schools to fund portions of their initiatives program, as well as making use of government funding, such as Title 1.
 
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