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IPS elementary schools could be restarted with new staff

November 16, 2017

Two Indianapolis Public Schools neighborhood elementaries are on notice that they could be restarted as innovation schools, with new principals and teachers.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration recommended Tuesday that School 14 and School 63 restart as innovation schools. If the school board votes to restart the schools, the current principals and teachers would be removed, and a charter operator or nonprofit will be brought in to run them.

The board will vote Thursday on a resolution in support of restart, but it will not make a final decision until a potential operator is selected.

As innovation schools, they would join a growing number of IPS campuses that are considered part of the district but are managed by outside operators. The teachers are employed by the manager, and they are not part of the district union. But the school board has oversight of the schools, and the district is ultimately responsible for student scores on state tests.

Since the innovation program began less than three years ago, the district has restarted four neighborhood schools as innovation schools in an effort to improve academic performance and state grades. All of those schools serve large numbers of low-income students and students of color. (Twelve other schools chose to join the network or opened as innovation schools.)

The latest move comes after years of low state grades at both schools. School 14, also known as Washington Irving, was selected for restart based on test scores and a site visit made as part of a new district-led assessment. The school is on the near-east side, but it is the neighborhood school for most of the city’s downtown. It has one of the highest proportions of homeless students in the district.

The challenge of educating homeless students was raised by Heidi Lyda, executive director of LYN House, a not-for-profit that works with students at School 14. She said School 14 also has many students who have unstable housing, are in foster care, or have been traumatized.

“For many of the students, the teachers and staff at School 14 are their role models, their cheerleaders and their caregivers in many ways,” she said. “What will happen to the well-being of these students when all of the familiar adult faces are gone next year?”

Board Member Kelly Bentley said that she understood that many students face instability outside of school, but ultimately, she is unwilling to tolerate the status quo at failing schools.

“We just can’t keep going year after year after year and seeing these schools that are failing our kids,” she said. “There’s not an option of doing nothing.”

School 63, a west side elementary school also known as Wendell Phillips, was considered for restart last year due to its chronically low performance. Ultimately, the district chose not to restart the school but that reprieve does not appear likely to last.

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

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