What is autonomy?



The IPS Board of Commissioners has unanimously approved core
commitments and beliefs that include moving toward a model where teachers and
principals control and are accountable for what happens in their schools and
have the power to make decisions in the best interest of the students they


Under this model, the Central Office exists to support a
system of autonomous schools that are held accountable to clear performance


Building a portfolio of schools where principals are
empowered to make most or all decisions at the school level has been highly
successful in other urban districts, and it will enable our schools, principals
and teachers to better serve families throughout our district. 



Why is IPS undertaking this process?

Simply put, we believe that empowering our schools with the
ability to have more decision-making authority is an academic strategy that we
have not leveraged enough across our schools. Top-down management doesn’t take
into account that each school is different and serves different students. By
empowering strong leaders at the school level to make informed decisions for
their teachers and students, we will create a system where the Central Office
supports school needs instead of dictating them. 



What is the timeline for developing and implementing this

The Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted autonomy as a
district-wide goal in early 2015. The timeline for transforming individual schools
will begin in the 2016-2017 school year within a pilot group of schools where
principals, teachers and families want to adopt this model. 


Currently, most schools have autonomy over the progress
assessments they use throughout the year, the type of technology they are
employing in their buildings, and principals have the authority to hire the
teachers who staff their buildings.


This process will be transparent and open; community
feedback will be essential to its success. Our long-term goal is to implement
more autonomy in every school, but that’s not something we will be able to
accomplish overnight, and we want to make sure we get it right. 



Who will decide which schools will be part of this

IPS will work with principals who want to be part of the
initial movement toward autonomy to determine which schools should be included
in the 2016-2017 school year. A part of this process will be for principals to
engage in conversation with their school community to talk about what it means
for their school.



What is an Innovation School?

The concept of Innovation Schools began with Indiana’s
Public Law 1321, which created a pathway for school operators to partner with
IPS in order to fully operate a school within the district. A new state law
passed in 2015 that expanded the Innovation Network to districts statewide and
allowed IPS more opportunities to transform existing schools into Innovation
Network Schools. Innovation School students are counted as IPS students. 


Under this law, in addition to being able to convert
existing schools to Innovation Schools, IPS may also restart any
underperforming schools in the district to become an Innovation School or open
new Innovation Schools in any building where there is capacity. IPS is proud to
have a leading role in this concept, which allows districts the autonomy to
seek opportunities for strategic partnerships and ensure continued student


IPS welcomed five Innovation Schools in the 2015-2016 school
year. Emma Donnan Elementary School, Enlace Academy, KIPP Indy College Prep
Middle School, KIPP Indy Unite Elementary School and Phalen Leadership Academy
at Francis Scott Key School 103 are now part of the IPS family, providing a
variety of new opportunities for our students and families. 



How do Innovation Schools and autonomous schools differ?

Innovation Schools have full decision-making authority over
both the academic and operational functions within the school.  Innovation Schools are in partnership with
IPS through a legal agreement that outlines services each organization will
provide as well as how the Innovation School will be held accountable to
achieving results.

When we describe autonomous schools, we are talking about
schools that have decision-making authority but primarily over the academic
functions of their school, which includes things like how the day is
structured, how they choose to staff their school, and what instructional
methods are used. 


I’ve heard this
strategy called a portfolio model. What does that mean?

When we talk about portfolio, we are talking about employing
a model whereby the district is composed of a collection of schools that are
able to leverage school-based decision-making authority to become more
effective.  In a portfolio model, the
district does not employ the same one-size-fits-all approach to all its


If you look at the current makeup of our schools, there is
evidence that we’ve employed a “portfolio model” even before that language
began being used.  There are several of
our schools that currently have additional school-based decision-making authority.  With the addition of Innovation schools this
year, we’ve grown that continuum of authority.  
Our goal is simply to expand on this strategy because we believe that if
we give more authority to our principals who have the capacity and vision to
use it wisely, our schools will be more successful. 



How will
autonomy affect teachers?

This model empowers principals to make decisions at the
school level, including with respect to staffing. We believe strong principals
will recruit strong, capable teachers who share a vision for serving students
and families in their school. 

Teachers at Innovation Schools will no longer be IPS
employees but may create bargaining units within their schools; teachers in
traditional and autonomous schools will still be part of the IPS bargaining



Why can’t we
just keep the system we have?

No two students are alike. No two schools are alike. The
top-down approach we’ve taken in the past isn’t meeting the needs of all the
families we serve. We need to build a portfolio of schools that are designed at
the school level to provide a high-quality educational experience for the
students in that school. This approach has been successfully implemented in a
number of other urban school districts, and we believe it will lead to high-quality
school options throughout IPS. 


Simply put, we believe that we can’t continue to do what
we’ve been doing and expect to achieve results any different than what we’ve
previously accomplished.  We aren’t
satisfied with our current level of performance, and we are committed to
creating high-quality schools across our district.  We must be able to provide our principals and
teachers with the flexibility and authority they need to make decisions that
most effectively meet the needs of their students.  This will be a transition, and it will not
happen overnight; however, we will be intentional and deliberate as we move to
ensure that every IPS student attends a high-quality school.

To see this document on the IPS School Board of Commissioners website click here

Information provided by Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners Office