COMMENTARY: Dear IPS, parents are not the enemy

Tawn Parent
October 9, 2010
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Tawn ParentHi. My name is Tawn and I send my son to Indianapolis Public Schools.

Middle-class IPS parents may feel as though they are making an embarrassing confession when they tell people where their children attend school. This admission might be met by a quizzical look, a slight frown, or worse. Based on some people’s reactions, it would seem that sending a child to IPS is the kiss of doom.

Many people know little about the district beyond the headlines bemoaning low graduation rates or no-shows on the first day of school.

Many people don’t know that IPS is not just for poor people. Parents with children in IPS include executives at Eli Lilly and Co., leaders of arts organizations, and a former lieutenant governor.

Many people don’t know that IPS’ Sidener Academy boasted the state’s highest average scores on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress for the last two years. Or that IPS boasts other innovative, high-achieving schools.

I feel lucky to have access to the quality choices in IPS. But the district is also lucky to have me, and the many other parents who pour time, energy and money into some of our city’s most disadvantaged schools. Funds raised by parents build school playgrounds and provide team uniforms and even basic supplies for classrooms.

In some IPS schools, parents arrive every day to assist teachers, chaperone field trips or tutor students.

The district is expanding popular programs to appeal to families, yet administrators often treat parents as adversaries.

When Superintendent Eugene White proposed moving the start time of elementary schools to 9:30 a.m., he publicly chastised parents for daring to protest that such a late start time would pose safety concerns for their children and difficulties for working parents.

“Your children need to come first,” he scolded.

A woman I know just moved her daughter to an IPS school. Excited about the change, she volunteered to head up the PTA. Then, a few days into the school year, an administrator abruptly ordered her out of the building for the small sin of talking to a teacher after the morning bell.

Fellow parents frequently tell stories of being ignored, patronized or insulted by IPS administrators. Granted, there are a number of deadbeat parents in the district. And granted, many teachers and some principals do appreciate parental involvement. But overall, the administration too often falls short. IPS needs a top-down, system-wide mandate to treat parents as valuable partners.

IPS represents 32,000 future workers or, alternately, welfare recipients or jail inmates. Therefore, IPS matters to the entire community. Recognizing this, The Indianapolis Star is pulling out all the stops to galvanize support for IPS. Its reporters are documenting the needs of the district’s children in an attempt to raise test scores, lower the dropout rate, and line up 10,000 volunteers to help disadvantaged youth. It’s a noble effort for a noble cause.

How ironic that the Star is trying to attract community members with no connection to IPS, while the district itself is driving away parents with a strong vested interest in the schools’ success. Parents who participate actively in their children’s education are those most likely to exercise their prerogative to enroll their children elsewhere.

Those are students—and parents—IPS cannot afford to lose. The district recently announced that its enrollment has dropped by 950 students since last year. That’s enough to fill three elementary schools. If this trend continues, next year Fort Wayne’s district will surpass IPS as the state’s largest.

Fort Wayne lost just 20 students this year. To what does that district credit its high retention rate? Its strong relationships with parents.

“We think that has prevented our schools from losing students to the charter schools at the same rate that they have in Indianapolis,” spokeswoman Krista Stockman told The Associated Press. “Part of that is that people see our schools as viable places to be.”

A friend of mine has been a staunch advocate of IPS since her children started in the system 12 years ago. But in August, after a high school dean made false accusations and ridiculed this mom and her daughter, she felt compelled to switch to a charter school.

“It’s disheartening to see administrators who have no respect for these kids or their families,” she said.

A district that is hemorrhaging students needs all the friends it can get, and involved parents are the best friends schools can ask for. But even public-education champions have their limits. Local parents have 20 charter schools and numerous private options to choose from.

With so much competition, IPS alienates parents at its peril. The district’s loss is ultimately a loss for us all.•


Parent is associate editor of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to tparent@ibj.com.


  • Intercessions
    I think Judy and others will be glad to hear that the Y, Indy Parks, Boy Scouts, and many others are stepping forward hoping to offer great programming to students during the intercessions that would occur in a balanced calendar.
  • Thank you, Lee
    "Schools cannot instantly solve societal problems, and test scores do not always reflect the quality of the school. Instead of always blaming urban schools for low test scores, let's examine underlying causes like homelessness, poverty, homes without books, language challenges and poor nutrition."
    Thank you, Lee for this particular comment. Not expecting that schools will solve it all, but let's talk about the underlying causes and try to come up with some solutions.
  • Preaching to the choir
    Parental involvement is welcome...except where it challenges the administrators' authority and control.

    Instead of alienating the involved parents IPS claims it wants, how about spending more time reaching out to parents who aren't involved even at a basic level, such as making sure kids value what education can give them.
  • concerned IPS parent
    Thank you so much for this article especially now when IPS is proposing a change to the calendar. For those families who do not have the luxury of large quantities of vacation time the year round schedule is simply not functional. We rely heavily on Indy Parks for summer activities. If the options are 1 parent losing a job or leaving a young child home alone we will have to look at options outside of IPS.
  • Parents as allies, not obstacles
    Tawn, thank you for the IBJ article you wrote: Dear IPS: parents are not the enemy. You are right in saying that people are surprised when they learn that, as a parent, you have chosen an IPS school for your child. When my husband and I proudly say that our daughter goes to an IPS school, the usual response is a pause and a quizzical look. We also quickly state that our daughter attends an IPS Magnet school, The Center for Inquiry in downtown Indy where the community within the school is incredibly strong along with its approach to academics.

    Just this weekend the Art Club at The Center for Inquiry held a fundraiser at The Bona Thompson Center in Irvington to raise money for the Art Club students' trip to the Appalachian Mountains where they will study art this spring. About 250 people showed up including principal Collier, several CFI teachers, parents and the community, to support the students. This was on top of another event the night before where the CFI administrators, staff, students and parents held their annual Celebration of Peace and Art; again, highly attended and another late night well beyond the hours of the school day. This school is dedicated to creating a community where students and parents are involved and appreciated.

    The concern that we have as IPS parents is that the culture at the higher administrative levels of IPS does not align with the culture of our particular school. At CFI, parents are seen as partners; at the upper administrative levels at IPS, parents are many times seen as obstacles. If the upper administrative culture begins to infect the culture at CFI, we will not continue with the school. So what - they would only lose one student if we left CFI, but the greater loss would be another set of proud parent advocates of IPS who continually talk up the Magnet school options that IPS offers. IPS could use all the advocates it can get and, as of right now, we continue to be strong advocates of IPS. My message to IPS would be: find a way to utilize us as your allies rather than viewing us as obstacles.
  • IPS proud, concerned
    Tawn is correct on all fronts. We are in year three at IPS school 2 - Center for Inquiry and our administrators and teachers are tremendous in their appreciation of parents. However, Dr. White may not be thinking of parents like most at CFI, Sidener, other schools where parents are deeply engaged when he proposes 9:30 start times, and even the new year-round schedule. I fear that in an effort to serve students and families who are not perfoming as Dr. White would like to see, he will allienate the families who are succeeding academically and in their engagement in the schools. Parents like Tawn and me and others who choose IPS are can choose charters, or Catholic schools. Question for Dr. White: as the year-round calendar will allow IPS to offer strong remediation during three-week breaks for the neediest children, what happens to students who do not qualify for remediation? Where do those students spend nine weeks of break? If it were still summer YMCA, museums, parks, scouts offer enrichment. Not so in October, December and March.
    • Slightly Frustrated Parent
      I completely agree with Ms. Parent. I appreciate my children's IPS school, administrators and all of their teachers. However, I am also beginning to feel the "rules" set out by Dr. White are beginning to alienate parents. I believe that learning does begin at home and must be encouraged there. The experiences outside the classroom can highly enhance the educational experience. When I enrolled my children in IPS I was confident that they would get a good education and when I spoke to teachers about taking a child out of class for an afternoon to visit a special exhibit or attend Dance Kaleidescope, the teachers were thrilled that the child would get such an opportunity. This year I am finding that due to changes in policy I am not permitted to take my children out of school for more than their 20 minutes at lunch. Due to my work schedule I am not able to take them to museums on the weekends, or go out of town during school breaks-that is the way it is in tourism. Due to our family budget I can not afford the $25 tickets to Dance Kaleidescope at night, but can afford the $6 for the noon performance. It would be so beneficial if IPS could work with me as a parent rather than penalize my child with detention if she or he misses an hour of school in order to EXPERIENCE their education.
    • Another proud IPS parent
      In my experience at the IPS Center for Inquiry, where my son is a student, parents ARE viewed as essential partners in our children's education. However, I applaud Tawn Parent's article, and I wholeheartedly relate to her experience of having to explain and defend her decision to send her children to IPS. The media plays a big part in the public's perception. For a long time it seemed the full name of IPS was along the lines of "The beleaguered Indianapolis Public Schools" or "troubled" or "failing..." I was stunned to discover that IPS has a great deal to offer, and top-notch faculty for whom teaching is a calling. Schools cannot instantly solve societal problems, and test scores do not always reflect the quality of the school. Instead of always blaming urban schools for low test scores, let's examine underlying causes like homelessness, poverty, homes without books, language challenges and poor nutrition.
    • Parent Partners
      So sad to read this story by Tawn and the additional comment by Julie. Parents are vital to the overall health and sense of community within a school. There are parents who because of work schedules, etc. can't give time at the school directly. Those who are able to help are so appreciated and need to be told and reminded of their value, not made to feel less than welcome. We appreciate all those who lend a hand by tutoring, assisting with recess supervision, accompanying classrooms on school field trips, organizing activities, coaching ball teams, leading after school clubs, planning family events, etc. Parents, don't give up. If your school staff or administrator isn't invitational, tell them so and bring it to their attention. They should know how to welcome all parents and volunteers, but if they don't show it, and you don't feel welcome, tell them.
    • agreed
      I totally agree with this. IPS can not afford to lose me as a parent - I have been in the system for 15 years and this will be our last, in part to administrators and building staff who don't seem to appreciate us. Dr. White has belittled me one time too many. Building staff have made it so I do not feel comfortable in the school building my children have been part of since 1993. I am finished, leaving and taking my last child with me...to a Charter school. I am sure others will be following if the trend of Dr. White dictating what happens to the system.

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