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Three IPS schools put on notice: schools could be ‘restarted,’ teachers made to reapply

December 12, 2016

Three more struggling Indianapolis Public Schools have been officially put on notice: They could be “restarted” next year and all of their teachers could be forced to reapply for their jobs.

School 42, School 63 and John Marshall Middle School were all named by the district as candidates for conversion to “innovation” status following years of low test scores.

That means the school’s teachers would no longer be represented by the IPS union and their principals would be given more flexibility over curriculum, school hours and budgets. The schools would be run independently from the district but, unlike charter schools, would still be responsible to the school board.

The three schools named Monday are the latest to face possible conversion as part of a district effort to improve chronically failing schools.

Already, three failing schools converted to innovation status over the last two years, but there is not yet much evidence of whether the approach will achieve the lofty aim of fixing failing schools. Leaders have enough faith in the strategy, however, that they are pursuing plans to continue restarting schools.

In addition to restarting schools, the district has also allowed two successful schools to convert to innovation status and several charter schools have joined the network.

The IPS board plans to discuss these latest innovation conversions this week and will make a final decision early next year, according to Aleesia Johnson, who leads innovation schools for the district.

All three schools facing restart have been on the district’s radar for several years. School 42, a north-side elementary school, is an IPS “priority” school, which receives extra attention and training from the district, and School 63, a west-side elementary school, is part of the “transformation zone,” a state-funded program that aims to improve district high schools and the elementary schools that feed into them.

John Marshall is also a priority school. Test scores at the east-side school have been dismal for several years, and a group of parents called for the district to improve the school in June. If the board converts the school to innovation status, it would be part of a larger transition because the district already plans to reconstitute the school, which currently serves grades 7-12, as a middle school as part of a plan approved by the board in August.

The schools are up for restart because they each have three or more years of failing grades on the state accountability system, a benchmark set by the IPS board. (Four other low-scoring middle schools in the district are eligible for restart, but those schools were already set to be closed as part of the middle school reconfiguration.)

At John Marshall, School 42 and School 63, district leaders will look more closely at other measures of school quality, including whether students are showing improvement on state exams, before making their final recommendations to the board in January, according to Johnson.

Because the schools have had several years of failing grades, the Indiana State Board of Education will also be monitoring the plan for improving them, Johnson said.

“We are trying to make sure we have a strong plan that we believe … the state board will be in support of us implementing,” she said.

At the schools that could be restarted, the district has already begun to hold meetings with teachers and parents to discuss the schools’ future.

If the board decides to convert the schools to innovation schools, the next step will be choosing partners to take over management.

Johnson said the district hasn’t selected partners. But there are a few clear possibilities. Earl Phalen, who runs a charter network that manages two innovation elementary schools, has said in the past that the network plans to open a middle school on the east side at John Marshall or another campus.

There also are two planned schools that are possible candidates to take over schools 42 and 63: The leaders of Paramount School of Excellence charter school are aiming to start a second campus as an innovation school. And, a planned charter school called Ignite Achievement Academy presented to the IPS board in November. Both schools received planning grants from the Mind Trust, a not-for-profit that offers fellowships for leaders to plan innovation schools.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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