IPS will free up schools next year with the Mind Trust's help

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A student with a "golden ticket" for a skating party as a reward for good work at School 93. As a Project Restore school, it is an example of an IPS school that operates with a degree of independence.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee want to give out money in Indianapolis Public Schools based on student needs and let each principal have wide freedom to make decisions about who they hire and how they spend.

But it’s going to take a couple of years to get there, he told the Indianapolis Public School Board tonight.

For next year, Ferebee plans to select just a group of schools to pilot the new system of school funding and autonomy.

But after that, with the help of the non-profit group The Mind Trust, there will be a strong push to turn more IPS schools into independently-run “innovation schools.”

That could prove controversial, as the Mind Trust, which pushes for educational change in Indianapolis, envisions a stable of schools operating as non-profits that are managed without direct district oversight under contracts.

That would mean, for example, the schools could choose to hire teachers who work for them, not the district, removing the worker protections of the IPS union contract.

Innovation schools were made possible by a 2013 law created by House Bill 1321. The bill was crafted with input from Ferebee and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office to give IPS the freedom to partner with external groups, such as charter school networks, or internal groups of educators to encourage new ideas for managing schools.

The first such partnership was launched this year with Phalen Leadership Academies, a charter school network, managing IPS School 103.

The Mind Trust help sparked that partnership through its $100,000 “innovation school fellowships,” which picked Phalen and two other groups to develop school reform plans to independently run IPS schools under the 2013 law.

The new “education empowerment grants” will offer $50,000 to support planning for IPS principals who want to develop similar plans to become innovation schools.

David Harris, The Mind Trust co-founder and CEO, said one of the lessons his group has learned is that school leaders need planning time to have a good shot at starting an effective school or turning around a troubled school.

“We think this is a really big deal unlike anything in the country,” he said.

The Mind Trust, he said, now supports three routes to starting a school: it incubates new charter schools, provides $100,000 innovation fellowships to create innovation schools and now offers the new $50,000 grants to bring innovation to existing IPS schools.

“We now have all of these pathways to starting a school,” he said.

Ferebee said, in essence, a group of schools will be selected next year to pilot the implementation of the new weighted, or “student-based” budget system.

“There is a lot of professional learning that has to develop to be successful,” he said.

IPS innovation officer Aleesia Johnson said by next year IPS schools will be in three groups: traditional schools funded under the current budgeting model; autonomous schools funded using the new “weighted” budgeting model; and innovation schools, run independently under contract.

But the long term goal, she said, is to have all schools operating autonomously either under weighted budgeting or as innovation schools.

“It will allow some of our traditional schools to move to the innovation pathway when they are ready,” she said.

That raised a question for board member Gayle Cosby.

“Is there a place for traditional schools down the road?” she asked.

Johnson answered: “That depends on how we define ‘traditional.’”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.