NewsEducation / February 23, 2018

IPS Approves, Considers More Innovation Schools For 2018-19

Matchbook Learning CEO Sajan George presents his school restart plan to the Indianapolis Public Schools Board on Jan. 25, 2018 at the John Morton Center. - Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media

Matchbook Learning CEO Sajan George presents his school restart plan to the Indianapolis Public Schools Board on Jan. 25, 2018 at the John Morton Center.

Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media

The Indianapolis Public School administration pushed ahead with efforts to expand autonomous schools and partnerships with charter operators during Thursday’s board meeting.

Board trustees heard pitches from educators seeking various types of deals ranging from restarting a failing school to merging a soon-to-open charter school into the district. The presentations are part of the administration's fast-paced plan to decentralize school oversight and empower school leaders to operate independently on curriculum and financial decisions.

Two proposals were up for vote to open in the 2018-19 school year.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says a growing number of school leaders are interested in partnering with the district.

"We have been able to thrive off of those relationships," he says. "We have more options for families to choose from but more importantly, we have more high-quality options for families.”

But two board members and some in the community spoke out against the plans and criticized what they say is a lack of oversight by board members of this new class of schools.

At the start of the 2017-18 school year, there were 18 so-called ‘innovation schools' with varying types of independence while remaining under the IPS umbrella for per-student state funding and select services.

Here’s a summary of what the board approved and heard Thursday:

Matchbook Learning The board 5-1 approved basic contract terms for the national school turnaround company to reform the failing west side K-8 Wendell Phillips School 63 start this summer. Last month Matchbook Learning CEO Sajan George presented the plan and emphasized he’s relocated to Indianapolis to improve schools in the city.

“To truly turn around a school in a community, I actually think it takes seven years,” he says. "Our goal is to take a school that is performing like 63 and -- in seven years -- it’s in the top 5 percent.

Chalkbeat recently reported that George has a troubled history: two schools in other states closed after took over Matchbook took them over.

Board commissioner Elizabeth Gore voted against the terms.

“I refuse to turn over the school to a company that obviously has problems, to an academic program that I feel has no accountability, a record or sustainability for improving children’s academic growth," Gore says.

The contract terms allow Matchbook "operational autonomy in operating the school" and "responsible for hiring and managing teachers and staff, and in implementing its academic model."
The Indianapolis Mayor's Office previously approves the school's charter.

Thrival Academy The board narrowly approved the study-abroad program as a permanent school on the Arsenal Tech campus. It gives juniors a year of classes and a three-month trip to Thailand. Currently, 20 IPS students are in that country at no cost to themselves. In a few years, the school wants 100 students. IPS will provide $23,000 in recoupable start-up funds, according to the contract.

The vote was 4-2. Board commissioners Elizabeth Gore and Venitia Moore voted against the plan. They cited lack of evidence that student academics won't be negatively impacted by the school and questioned why it needed to become designated as a school.

Frederick Douglass SUPER School 19 Principal John McClure wants to convert the Far Southside magnet school into an innovation school. The change, he says, would allow more flexibility in designing new staff positions and offering weekly professional development by having the power to change the daily schedule. The innovation status requires teachers to resign from IPS, and the collective bargaining agreement, and be rehired by a new non-profit that would manage the school. Four district schools converted to innovation status since 2016.

Several teachers spoke in favor of the plan. A member of the IPS Community Coalition, a group often critical of the district, claimed that some teachers and parents did not support the change.

SUPER School – which stands for “Students Understanding through Powerful and Energetic Routines” –offers a curriculum focused on physical movement.

District administrators could recommend the board to approve the request in upcoming months.

UrbanACT Mind Trust fellow Nigena Livingston previously worked in Detroit and planned to open an Indianapolis middle school with Earl Phalen but that plan did not work out. Now, she is recommended to restart Washington Irving School 14 under her newly designed UrbanACT curriculum.

Livingston described it as offering equitable education that includes project-based and "self-paced" learning, restorative justice and an extended school day to allow for block scheduling.

The eastside Washington Irving School 14 was selected for a restart to avoid intervention from state education officials after years of academic failure. In past years it received two consecutive F and D grades from the state. It's currently rated F.

District administrators could recommend the board to approve the request in upcoming months.

pilotED PilotED's Jacob Allen and Marie Dandie are set to open their first charter school at the former Harriet Beecher Stowe School 64, 2710 Bethel Ave., in Fountain Square this fall. The two Mind Trust fellows from Chicago want to become an innovation charter school within the district. They say partnering with IPS to provide various services -- those could include food, transportation and special education -- would create a strong foundation for the new school. The former Teach For America members have received praise for their former afterschool program in Chicago. Dandie is currently the assistant principal at Global Prep Academy.

District administrators could recommend the board to approve the request in upcoming months.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.


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