November 15, 2017

IPS Board Backs 'Innovation Restart' To Turnaround 2 Failing Schools

Washington Irving School 14 is a PreK-8th grade school on East Market Street. - Indianapolis Public Schools

Washington Irving School 14 is a PreK-8th grade school on East Market Street.

Indianapolis Public Schools
Updated 8:49 p.m. Nov. 16, 2017

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board backed a plan Thursday night by district administration to restart two long struggling elementary schools.

The westside Wendell Phillips School 63 and the eastside Washington Irving School 14 were selected for possible restart to avoid intervention from state education officials after years of academic failure.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee wants to identify an outside manager to establish a new academic model and culture at each school. The process could cause current teachers and staff at the schools to lose their jobs.

The IPS Board unanomously voted to approve the recomendation to restart the two schools.

But the proposal is causing some neighborhood groups to push back.

Heidi Lyda, director of the LYN House, a faith-based nonprofit that supports School 14, told the IPS School Board during a meeting Tuesday that forced turnover of school staff could traumatize students already facing numerous challenges. The school’s boundary, she says, includes multiple homeless shelters.

“When I think of the needs of the children I interact with daily, I am concerned for their well being, when their safe place, their family, their school is overhauled," Lyda says.

Yet board commissioner Kelly Bentley, District 3, says the district can not standby while students remain in failing schools year after year.

“There is not an option of doing nothing. That is simply not an option,” Bentley says. “We know people are apprehensive. But from our experiences in the past, that transition has gone well.”

During Thursday meeting, current School 14 parents voiced support for the plan. One parent suggested that Paramount School of Excellence, an A-rated charter school with a similar socio-economic makeup as School 14, should be considered to remake the school.

In the past three years, the district contracted with outside groups to take control of four elementary schools. Three of these schools have shown signs of improvement in academic growth on standardized tests and student behavior but remain behind the district or state average.

A state law allows IPS and other districts to sign these partnerships with charter school management companies, nonprofits and other types of organizations to create so-called innovation network schools.

These schools operate outside the district’s collective bargaining agreement and are able to set their own curriculum, policies and hours.

Thirteen groups submitted letters of intent to be considered as restart managers, says Aleesia Johnson, district Innovation Officer. The district declined to release the names of the potential operators.

If the IPS School Board votes in support of the restart, the 13 groups will be notified that School 63 and School 14 will be restarted and the groups can submit restart proposals tailored to those school.

Wendell Phillips School 63 received five consecutive F grades from the state. The school's most recent ISTEP scores are below district average for academic growth and pass rates. 

Washington Irving School 14 received two consecutive F grades from the state. The school's ISTEP scores are also below district average. 

But the ISTEP scores for School 14 and School 63 are higher or near the same as the three IPS schools already under restart status. 

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


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