In a recent media release, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) announced they are looking for “quality partners” to launch innovation network schools for the 2018-2019 school year. IPS explains their innovation school network as a group of “public schools with expanded autonomy to make academic and operational decisions that will maximize student achievement. Innovation schools also expand quality choices for all families.”
In 2014, IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee realized that the centralized policies of IPS prevented principals and teachers from making significant changes in their schools. He began to look for ways to empower them.
Ferebee publicly supported state legislation to allow the creation of innovation network schools. These schools are exempt from the same laws and regulations that charters are exempt from, and they operate outside IPS’s union contracts. The principal and teachers are employed by a nonprofit corporation with its own board, not IPS. Yet all the innovation network schools operate in IPS buildings. They have five-to-seven year performance contracts with the district. If a school fails to fulfill the terms of its contract, the district can terminate it or refuse to renew it, but otherwise it cannot interfere with the school’s autonomy.
There are already 16 innovation network schools, out of 70 total in IPS. They come in four varieties:
- New start-ups, some of which are also charter schools.
- Existing charter schools that choose to become innovation schools and are housed in district buildings.
- Failing district schools restarted as innovation schools.
- Existing IPS schools that choose to convert to innovation status.
Regardless of the type of innovation network school, all of the schools benefit from full charter-style autonomy. With that autonomy, IPS has seen a growth in the types of schools the district has to offer.
Francis Scott Key Elementary School, a failing district school that became the first innovation school, has focused heavily on creating a culture of parent involvement: the school hires parent advocates, invites parents to regular events at school, and has a breakfast program for fathers and kids. Teachers do home visits before each school year begins.
School 93 is a teacher-run school. Project Restore, a group of teachers who were tired of top-down initiatives created by those far removed from the classroom, had earned a reputation for turning around district schools. Ferebee encouraged them to bring their model to School 93, and the teachers chose to pursue innovation network status for the school.
Global Preparatory Academy is the first dual-language immersion school to be chartered in Indiana. Mariama Carson, the founder of the school, recruited teachers worldwide to get 50 percent native Spanish speakers on staff. Her school is both a charter, authorized by the mayor’s office, and an innovation network school, located in an IPS building. “I thought I would never again work inside a district,” she says, “but I think this way of working inside a district will work for us.”
By embracing school autonomy, IPS has spurred the creation of unique and successful district schools. Soon the charter sector and innovation network schools will educate half of all public school students within IPS’s boundaries.
By calling for new partners to open other innovation network schools, IPS is showing its continued effort to expand the diversity of school designs and its intent to create a 21st century school system.
IPS has decided to open the application process to “attract a broader pool of diverse applicants with innovative ideas.” The call for applicants is open to any non-profit group, charter school operator, or individual. The application can be found here.