Indianapolis Public Schools, the city, and educational nonprofit The Mind Trust are offering $100,000 to individuals who come up with reform models to improve struggling schools.
It’s part of the new “Innovation School Network.” The idea is receiving praise from IPS leaders and the city, but the state teachers association isn’t sold.
The new initiative aims to attract ideas from people, not only from around the country, but around the world.
IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee says doing so will give the district the best chance of developing innovative ideas.
"We have talented educators in IPS, but we also want to make sure that we capitalize on other great ideas that may come outside of Indianapolis or our region," said Ferebee.
The Indiana State Teacher’s Association thinks that puts local teachers at a disadvantage. President Teressa Meredith calls it a “slap in the face” and believes IPS educators should get first crack at the fellowship.
“I think it would have meant so much more if (Ferebee) had said 'First, I'm going to look inside. I'm going to look at our current staff and say the first round of applicants will only be internal. Then, if we can't find what we are looking for, then we will open this up and go outside,'" said Meredith. "Maybe he is going to do that, but I think really it would have shown tremendous respect for his current staff, who are doing a good job, had he started there rather than including them in this external effort.”
Ferebee says there will be steps to help local teachers and members of the Indianapolis Education Association apply for the fellowship.
"We are scheduling sessions specifically for the IEA. We will have webinars, so there will be a variety of options for teachers to be involved, and engaged, and develop models and I believe that's what was asked and we are following up accordingly," said Ferebee.
But, Meredith says that still doesn’t ensure IPS teachers will win the fellowship and thinks it’s critical to have a local connection in rebuilding the struggling schools.
"Why not use the folks who know the system, who know the students, who know the challenges that they face, who know the communities, who perhaps have great connections in the community?," said Meredith. "Why not use those folks first, not in the mix of all this other - or not as an afterthought - but, use them first in the front line to get on this, quickly."
The Mind Trust is vowing to aggressively recruit local teachers to apply. The selection process begins in May with the winners chosen in the summer.
Up to three fellowships will be awarded in the first year. They will receive benefits and office space at the Mind Trust.
"There is no magic bullet and I think that's what everyone keeps looking for if we offer enough money or if we find the right person with the right idea suddenly things are going to change in IPS," said Meredith. "It's going to have to be change from within. It will have to be change from within that is motivated internally that comes from the inside if it is going to be long term, sustainable change."