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IPS students and staff prep for return to the classroom

Students and staff in Indianapolis Public Schools head back to school on Aug. 1 for the first day of class.

INDIANAPOLIS — Students and staff in Indianapolis Public Schools head back to school Aug. 1 for the first day of class.

They kicked off the new year with the IPS Back-to-School Festival on Monday.

"We are so excited to have our families out for supplies they may need to make sure their students are ready to kick off the year with everything they need," said IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson.

At the festival, students scored free backpacks full of supplies, free uniforms, free food, and plenty of back-to-school resources.

"Every penny counts that a family is bringing into their household," Johnson said. "This is an opportunity for us to say, 'We are in it with you. We are here to make sure you have what you need for your child to kick off the year well.'"

Brookside Elementary School will open its doors Monday. That's where Jeremy Baugh is prepping for his third year as principal.

"Parents usually tell us, 'Tag you're it,' right?" Baugh said, "but actually, we love our kids and so we can't wait to see our kids."

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At Brookside, students and staff are returning to an up-and-coming elementary school.

"Attendance, discipline and test scores have all three improved here, which was one of our goals," Baugh said.

"We recently got back our ILEARN results," Johnson said. "We are excited to see we had the strongest improvement in Marion County in terms of the growth our students made year-over-year."

Credit: WTHR

Johnson said IPS is also launching an additional tutoring program this year. It will be available for all students for free. Families can sign up once the school year starts.

Despite the good news, Baugh said the coronavirus pandemic still has a grip on education.

"We have some pretty serious gaps to close as a result of COVID," says Baugh, "and so, we are making gains, and we're back to pre-pandemic levels of ILEARN test score within the building, but still, always room to grow."

That's where teachers come in to play. According to the Indiana Department of Education, IPS still needs to fill more than 350 open positions.

RELATED: More than 2,300 open teaching positions in Indiana

"Our HR team and our principals are working incredibly hard to make sure every classroom has a great teacher in it ready to support our students," Johnson said. "We will be running up until the start of the school year, and probably quite frankly, into the school year to make sure that is true."

Keeping students safe amid ongoing gun violence in schools is also on the minds of IPS leaders.

"It is hard, and it's pretty emotional for all of us to think about, because it could happen anywhere," Baugh said.

As a father of three, Baugh said his school makes safety a priority.

"In our building specifically, IPS has enhanced security by adding an additional lock and safety feature at the front entrance," Baugh said.

RELATED: Hundreds line up for free school supplies, haircuts and more at 'Back to School Bash'

When it comes to the coronavirus, Baugh said COVID-19 protocols haven't changed much from last year.

"COVID protocols are where they were at the end of the year, which is no masks," Baugh said.

School leaders say they will monitor local COVID-19 numbers as the school year progresses.

Around 300 students will fill Brookside Elementary classrooms on Monday, as educators work to become the best district in the state.

"We have great options in STEM and after school club and enrichment," Baugh said. "So we are really headed in that direction. It's a great day to be in IPS."

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