A new effort between Indianapolis Public Schools and education reform group The Mind Trust, would allow existing school leaders at IPS to convert their schools to autonomous schoolhouses, free from district mandates and collective bargaining for teachers.
Tonight the IPS School Board heard briefly about The Mind Trust’s “Educator Empowerment Grant,” a new $50,000 award for IPS principals to design a way to operate their school as an independent non-profit.
If this all sounds familiar, it kind of is.
The proposed grant is part of a quickly changing management strategy at IPS to not just give principals more power to control their funds and hiring, but let management teams or even outside charter companies reestablish a current school with a unique curriculum yet remain under the district umbrella.
"Part of this strategy is, there may be great schools and great leaders that don't require a year of a fellowship that we utilized in the past," IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. "This is quick start, we are ready."
This would be the second type of grant The Mind Trust has collaborated on with Ferebee and Mayor Greg Ballard with the intention to attract educators and innovators to open so-called "innovation network schools" in the state’s second largest school corporation.
The previous fellowship, which takes at least a year of planning, is for anyone, anywhere to submit ideas for creating a new IPS school.
But David Harris, founder and CEO of The Mind Trust, said this new award is much different as it builds upon proven talent and community support already within IPS.
Successful applicants, he said, would have already designed a strong curriculum that has clear results.
“This is not a turnaround target,” he said in advance of the meeting. “This is a -- how do we ensure the top performing schools in the district have the conditions going forward for perpetuity?”
Harris says the contract between the school board and the school’s management would prevent changes in the future from a new administration or shake-up in the current board commissioners.
“Autonomy is not just in-and-of-itself good -- it can be bad if there is not unique planning,” he said “You need a strong leadership team and a plan.”
The grant would go toward costs associated with the school becoming autonomous of the district, such as legal fees or traveling to schools in other cities.
Yet, principals would still be able to submit a plan to become an innovation network school without The Mind Trust grant.
It’s possible up to two “Educator Empowerment Grants” could be awarded this year. Harris would like to see two new schools open for 2016-17. The IPS board has final say on the school plan.
These new type of IPS schools, would be another result of a state law signed last year called Public Law 1321 which allows compacts between the district and charter schools or other groups to operate schools inside the district without collective bargaining requirements. Though the law allows teachers to seek a collective bargaining agreement.
The schools are still accountable to IPS as based on a contract.
Phalen Leadership Academies’ School 103, formerly known as Francis Scott Key, is the first school in IPS to open under the law.
Aleesia Johnson, IPS’ first innovation officer, said leaders of this new type of school will make every decision in the building, from hiring and firing, to the length of the school day and year, and on down to classroom configurations.
Johnson said this is the start of giving more autonomy to principals and reducing the control IPS central office has over individual schools.
Information will be released soon, she said, on how principals can apply for the new grant. Those who are chosen would present plans to the board in March with a final vote in April.
“It will be an open process," Johnson said. "I think there are some good schools that are positioned better than others for this because they already have some autonomy. But that said, the school leader will have to a vision”
It seems this new pathway is, at least initially, targeted for IPS programs such as the Center for Inquiry's flagship School #2 and Project Restore’s School 99.
Center for Inquiry's curriculum is based on "inquiry-based learning" and the schools are International Baccalaureate World Schools.
School #2 became a Center for Inquiry in 2000. Along with CFI School 84, the two have remained among the top performing schools in the district. CFI School 27 was rated a C last year, up from a D in 2013.
In 2009 the troubled School 99 was graded an F when two teachers created the learning model that was soon used throughout the school and became known as Project Restore. The curriculum emphasis is discipline and changing student behaviors combined with regular academic testing to gauge student growth.
The school was rated an A last year. Parents successfully petitioned IPS to make the failing School 93 part of the Project Restore model this year.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized Center for Inquiry School 84 as "making improvements" when in fact the school has been rated an "A" on the state's accountability scale since 2009-10, according to available state data.