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EDITORIAL: Autonomy crucial for IPS turnaround

November 8, 2014

With the election of three reform-minded candidates to the board of Indianapolis Public Schools, hope is renewed—once again—that the long-struggling district will become a city asset.

For decades, IPS has been a liability, driving population and wealth out of the city and into surrounding counties. The long exodus has taken its toll—on housing, neighborhoods and the city’s tax base.

Will the district shine again? Maybe, but only if its schools are allowed to succeed individually. People of a certain age remember when schools were run by in-school administrators. They called the shots, and their schools had their own, mostly positive, identities. For a variety of reasons, that autonomy was whittled away, and the central office took control. The results speak for themselves.

With the reformers who were elected Nov. 4, the time might have finally arrived when IPS can reverse course. There have been baby steps toward shifting power back to the schools, but a complete transition is long overdue.

The new board members—Mary Ann Sullivan, LaNier Echols and Kelly Bentley—ran on a platform that called for giving schools autonomy and partnering with outside groups and charter school operators to help fix failing schools. Sullivan, Echols and Bentley will have help making good on their promises. The Mind Trust, the Indy Chamber and other reform-minded groups have all called for sending money and decision-making back to the schools. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and some board holdovers have also sent signals they would support such reforms.

The lot of them will do well to remember that schools can draw energy from their neighborhoods.

It’s a crime children in Irvington, Meridian-Kessler and any number of emerging city neighborhoods have to go out-of-district or to private schools to get a decent education. Many of their parents have long-standing ties to their neighborhood schools and would love to support them.

The new board should harness that energy where it exists. And where it doesn’t, they should tap the expertise of school reformers to improve the city’s schools one by one.

The IPS brand is broken, but its schools don’t have to be. Give individual schools the tools and autonomy they need to create their own success. Word will spread, and the whole city will benefit.

Holiday Wish List

It feels good to give. In that spirit, we urge businesses and individuals to watch for IBJ’s annual Holiday Wish List beginning Dec. 1 and then each week through Dec. 22. We expect nearly 100 requests from not-for-profits for a wide range of items and services.

Here’s your chance to make a difference. Stash a laptop or printer away when you bought a new one? Have some gently used winter coats your kids grew out of? Donating such goods to not-for-profits allows them to conserve scarce resources and, ultimately, make a larger impact on our community.

Organizations that want to be included in the Holiday Wish List should submit requests for items or services (not cash) to Barbara Hoffman at bhoffman@ibj.com.

Let’s do as much as we can to help not-for-profits that do so much to make this a caring and vibrant region.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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