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IPS, Mind Trust launch school-turnaround fellowship

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In an unprecedented partnership announced Tuesday night, locally based education reform group The Mind Trust, the mayor’s office and Indianapolis Public Schools are teaming up to try to improve the district's poorest performing schools.

The Mind Trust will pay selected educators $100,000 and benefits each to spend a year developing plans and forming teams to improve a struggling school identified by IPS, and then IPS would give the educators the funding and support resources they need to put their plans into action.

The $1.2 million initiative, called the Innovation School Fellowship, was presented Tuesday night to the IPS school board by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. It will hand out nine fellowships in total over the next three school years.

“This is as good a strategy that I know of anywhere in the country,” said David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, whose organization has used a similar fellowship model over the past seven years to launch innovative educational programs in Indianapolis.

The cooperation is a major shift from just two years ago, when The Mind Trust called for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard to be given control of IPS, an idea Ballard rejected and which sparked a sharp rebuke from then-IPS Superintendent Eugene White.

The new cooperation is an outgrowth of a massive change in the makeup of the IPS board, which dismissed White and hired Ferebee. Ferebee worked this year with Ballard’s deputy mayor of education, Jason Kloth, to push House Bill 1321 through the state legislature. The law gives IPS greater freedom to reconstitute schools and even contract with charter schools to operate schools under the IPS umbrella.

The fellowship is one way in which Ferebee is implemented the new freedoms given to him by the new law.

“It is critical that we improve the student outcomes in our neighborhood schools,” Ferebee said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Ferebee’s presentation to the IPS board noted that fellows can work to turn around 14 IPS schools that have received a D or F grade from the state education department for three straight years. Ferebee has put specialty priority on 11 schools, including John Marshall and Northwest middle schools, as well as eight elementary schools.

The Mind Trust said all applicants for the fellowship must file a statement of intent by May 15 and a full application by June 1. It will select two or three fellows by the end of June.

Harris, the Mind Trust CEO, said his organization will need to raise additional funds to pay for the fellowships in the second and third years of the program.

Each fellow will receive a $100,000 salary, health insurance and other benefits valued at $29,000, office space, coaching from local and national school experts, and opportunities to travel to observe high-quality schools nationwide.

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