Why 1 school district isn’t worried about its F’s

Warren Township Schools (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Warren Township Schools received six F’s on their State School Accountability report card, but district officials say they aren’t changing their plans moving forward.

The district’s schools didn’t receive any F’s for the 2015-2016 school year, but for 2016-2017, Creston Middle School, Stonybrook Middle School, Sunny Heights Elementary School, Creston Intermediate Academy, Stonybrook Intermediate Academy and Raymond Park Intermediate all failed the Indiana State Board of Education’s three-tiered assessment.

District administrators say they’re a district of innovation and that they’ll stick to their current their teaching models and newly implemented district-wide plans.

“We’re trying to make civic-minded citizens that are able to function in a post K-12 world, so specifically for that, we’re look at skills like critical thinking, collaboration, teamwork, the ability to be self-directed,” said Ryan Russell, assistant superintendent at Warren Township Schools.

“All of those things aren’t necessarily reflected on an accountability or achievement test, but things that are critically important for those students as they seek employment,” Russell continued.

Successful future employment is one of the top goals for Heather Cooksey, a fourth grade teacher at Liberty Park Elementary, which slipped from a B to a C grade this year.

“We’re setting students up for future jobs that might not be around yet, might be coming in the future,” Cooksey said.

“I want to see all of my students grow up and get whatever job that they want. I feel like testing is important, but it’s not the most important thing. To me, making sure they have what they need, the tools they need to be successful in life,” Cooksey continued.

If you step into her classroom, you have to let your eyes adjust to the dim light. You’ll find soft living room lighting, nontraditional chairs, individual learning, as well as personal and small group instruction. In fact, Cooksey said she only addresses the entire class all at once for 20 minutes a day.

“Typically, I’m able to pull two to three groups per day of four to five students, and we work on skills that the students need,” she said. “I feel like I know my students on a more personal level. I know each student’s learning needs and their learning style.”

It’s part of something different Warren Township is doing as an innovating district that says they might be hurting their state scores, but only temporarily.

Those innovations include giving teachers more control over their classrooms, letting students have more choice and voice in the classroom and employing “blended learning roll-out plans” and “personalized learning teams,” which group teachers together for cooperative planning for their classes.

“We meet with [other teachers] throughout the year several times, and it’s a way for us to meet, and we’re able to bounce ideas off each other so we’re not in this journey alone,” said Cooksey. “We’ve been each other’s biggest supporters throughout the path.”

Fourth grade is an important indicator for state assessments. Cooksey says the district’s methods should increase students’ test scores, but it’ll take years.

“I’m getting kindergartners, first graders, second graders that have already went through the personalized process. It’s just flowing a lot easier in the classroom,” she said. “Things are coming more naturally to the students.”

Ava Winkle, 9, is in Cooksey’s class, and says likes the one-on-one time.

“Sometimes I get pulled to talk about some stuff, and sometimes they’ll help me around if I don’t understand everything,” said Winkle. “Sometimes it’s just by myself, like we just talk about if I want to be in a club or something, or we get in a group and we’ll read together.”

Winkle also knows what’s important to the district: the CORE values.

“Civility, order, respect and excellence,” she recites. “We have CORE posters everywhere, and they show you how to act in that area.”

The Indiana State School Accountability grades will begin phasing out next year as the federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” takes over. Both Indianapolis Public Schools and Warren Township Schools say they use an internal evaluation system for their schools and will continue to do so.

For access to the State Board of Education’s Accountability Assessment, click here.