Indianapolis Public Schools: Indy’s Best Open Secret

After an amazing third-grade year and a fun summer, my 8-year-old son, Ian, was anxious about returning to school in person. Changes in routine are challenging for every kid, and the transition to fourth grade was proving extra difficult for Ian.

Each morning, we’d leave our house and walk across the street to William McKinley School 39, and Ian would stop firmly on the sidewalk. “I’m not going,” he’d insist. The greeters at the door saw Ian’s discomfort and had an idea. When they spotted Ian coming, one of the greeters texted his homeroom teacher, who came running downstairs to meet us outside. From then on, any time he needed encouragement, she was there at the door to walk Ian to class. After a few weeks, Ian’s anxiety about coming to school turned into excitement, and soon he was comfortable enough to walk to class on his own.

In my experience, that’s just how the faculty and staff operate at Indianapolis Public Schools—they go above and beyond to make every student feel cared for and loved. As the mom of three kids who attend a district school, I can assure you: IPS is Indy’s best open secret.

I wasn’t always so certain. Picking a school can feel like one of the highest-stakes decisions you make as a parent. When our family moved to Indianapolis in July 2019, we had less than six weeks to find a school for Ian, who was going into first grade at the time. My husband and I have always believed that thriving public schools make for thriving communities. Growing up, I loved my public school teachers so much that I wanted to become one—and I went on to teach first grade in Florida. However, when we arrived in Indy, we didn’t know anyone with young kids and didn’t hear any reassuring reviews of IPS. We ran through all other possibilities before resigning to the fact that the school in our neighborhood was our only real option. “OK,” we said.“If it’s a total failure, we’ll try something else.”

We never did try anything else. Once we walked through the doors at William McKinley School39, we never looked back. I’d been in a lot of schools, and I knew this was a special place.

IPS leadership—from the superintendent to the principals and the classroom teachers—works hard to foster a culture of kindness. On the morning announcements at School 39, the principal reads out the acts of kindness performed the day before. Anyone can submit an act of kindness—teachers write them for students and for other teachers, and students write them for teachers and for one another. When it came time to decide on a school for my younger children, Leo and Ruthie, all of the stress and the guesswork had disappeared. There was no doubt IPS was the place for them.

William McKinley School 39 is exceptional, but I don’t believe it is an exception in Indy. IPS has many great options to choose from—and the Rebuilding Strong Plan (RBS) will help ensure these choices are now available to every family, in every neighborhood. I’m happy to see new school models for elementary and middle schools—like STEM, High Ability, Dual Language,Visual and Performing Arts, and Montessori—and new programs for middle school computer science and math. There are new athletic offerings and offerings for art and music, so all kids can explore their creativity and develop as a whole person. I’m especially excited that the district is offering Pre-K to every family in the district, with little or no cost to families through the On MyWay Pre-K grant program. Even though my kids are older, I know what a difference this will make!

Like many Indianapolis families, I had a lot of questions about RBS at the beginning. But I have been encouraged by how IPS responded to community concerns, and as I’ve heard Dr. Aleesia Johnson explain her vision for our district, I know we are moving in the right direction, toward a district where every student can thrive.

If you’re a parent considering where to send your child to school next year, the best advice I can give you is this: You can’t know what a school is really like until you’ve been inside. Go and see for yourself what the atmosphere is like. Meet the teachers. Meet the principal. You’ll be missing out if you assume Indianapolis Public Schools is a backup option and not the best option for your family. And remember that no decision you make is permanent. (That’s an especially nice thing about the new school zone model:guaranteed free transportation to any school in your zone!)

My friends joke that I’m an evangelist for IPS, but I want every child to have the amazing school experience my kids are having. They are loved and cared for. They are attending a school that really mirrors what Indianapolis is like as a whole, with classmates from a huge variety of ethnic and language backgrounds, special needs, and more.

IPS is a strong school system—and I believe it’s only getting stronger

Indy's Child
Indy's Child
For 40 years, Indy's Child has been the trusted source for Indianapolis families seeking fun, educational, and enriching experiences. Our award-winning magazine and website are dedicated to providing expert advice, insider tips, and up-to-date information on everything from the best local attractions and events to parenting resources and support. As local experts deeply rooted in the central Indiana community, our passionate team at Indy's Child is dedicated to uncovering the best family-friendly experiences and resources our city has to offer. Whether you're new to parenting or looking for new ideas, Indy's Child is here to help you enjoy the adventure of raising a family in central Indiana.

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