A neighborhood-led effort to remake a failing Eastside school was approved by Indianapolis Public Schools Board Thursday making it the first of its kind in the district.
Thomas Gregg School 15 will transition into a so-called “innovation” school next academic year when it will be overseen by a new 501(c)(3) organization and a current principal to basically operates autonomously from IPS policies.
What makes School 15 unique is that community groups, such as the John H. Boner Neighborhood Center and Englewood Christian Church, are behind the plan to implement a new curriculum to boost academics and offer wraparound services for students and families of the failing school.
Earlier this week U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised IPS for allowing a neighborhood to shape School 15 to address their own needs. School 15 is currently rated an F on the state accountability scale and has been graded a D or F for each of the past four years.
Innovation schools are given the freedom to set their own curriculum, hiring practices and spending without interference from the district’s central office yet are still considered part of IPS. A state law initially allowed only IPS to contract without outside groups to create charter-like schools within the district. Now all school corporations in the state can contract with independent groups to manage schools but so far only IPS has used the law.
During the meeting, parent Shawanda Brown praised the planned personalized learning curriculum at School 15, saying it will help students master the skills they struggle with.
"And as we develop the plan for the new school, I'm really excited for the next year," Brown said. "The plan we have worked on is really what's best for the student."
IPS Commissioner Michael O’Connor said the effort by community groups to restart School 15 is an example others in the city could follow.
"This is clearly a group up effort in that neighborhood, a neighborhood not far from my house," he said. "And I learned every time I went to one of their meetings, about my neighbors."
The board voted unanimously to approve the contract between the nonprofit managing School 15 and the district. The contract includes a district payment of $172,000 in “preoperational funds” to the school. These cash advances are to be recouped by IPS during the school's first year of operation.
Previous members of the school board had voted against the creation of innovation schools but after two elections, the current seven members are mostly supportive yet cautious on ensuring accountability.
Two other schools were also approved unanimously Thursday to become part of the IPS’ Innovation School Network. That now makes 12 schools in the management system that was created by a 2014 law and supported by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office and the local education reform group The Mind Trust.
The other two approved schools are:
Ignite Academy at Elder Diggs School 42
- Leaders: Brooke Beavers, Shy-Quon Ely II
- Location: 1002 W 25th St.
- Preoperational funds: $250,000
- Curriculum: Ignite Academy will “restart” the long-failing School 42 with a new curriculum and possibly all new staff. Students at the school will be taught martial arts and follow a curriculum “built upon community engagement, project-based learning and the leading literacy, socio-emotional, and neuroscientific research,” according to the proposal.
Avondale Meadows Middle School
- Leader: Kelly Herron
- Location: 3980 Meadows Drive
- Preoperational funds: $100,000
- Curriculum: This is considered to be a “home” for graduates of the A-rated K-5 Avondale Meadows Academy. The charter application describes the school as “inclusive environment for students, regardless of gender or previous academic performance” that focuses heavily on English and math skills.