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Recently, I
was fortunate to represent the IPS board at the conference “Reinventing America’s
Schools, Lessons from the Denver Experience.” In Denver, and in many other
cities across the nation, school districts are transforming themselves into 21st-century
systems. More and more districts understand that they were designed to meet the
needs of the last century. The limitations of operating with an outdated
structure have made it increasingly difficult to address current needs. In
response, they are building new, continuous improvement systems that share a
common set of principles, but can be customized to local conditions. This
conference affirmed that the IPS board is in good company nationally, and that
elected school boards can be effective agents of change, even in established
systems.

 

The IPS board’s
strategy is based on a framework found in our Core Commitments and Beliefs and
woven throughout the IPS Strategic Plan. Some of the components of this new
approach include more choices and options for families, empowering schools
through greater autonomy, replacing unsuccessful schools with new schools and
providing a more equitable and fair distribution of resources across schools.

 

IPS has begun
implementing an important piece of this 21st-century strategy
through the establishment of its Innovation Network and Autonomous schools. Our
Innovation Network includes both charters and charter-like schools. The state
legislature created these new kinds of schools to give our district additional
opportunities to attract and retain students and improve achievement.

 

There are
several things the community would benefit from knowing about these new kinds
of schools. First, both Innovation Network and Autonomous schools are IPS
schools. They serve IPS students and the IPS board is responsible for their
continuing operation in our facilities. Families should expect to interact with
these schools in much the same way as our traditional, neighborhood schools.

 

Innovation and
Autonomous schools are not all the same programmatically, nor are they created
for the same reasons. Both kinds of schools help us move decision-making to the
school level, replace poorly performing schools with new programs sooner,
replicate successful schools, and give families more choices.

 

These changes
may initially be confusing for our families. However, with improved access to
more meaningful school performance information, better outreach and a more
user-friendly enrollment system, they can look forward to a more comprehensible
and transparent process for choosing schools.

 

The
expectation for both these types of schools is that they will be able to better
meet the needs of their students and families when they are freed from the
constraints of a top-down, central office. In fact, it is the board’s goal that
the central office will exist solely to support the work of the schools.
Evidence from Denver and other cities using this strategy indicates that urban
schools are able to make gains, sometimes dramatic gains, when educators have
the power to make key decisions at the school level.

 

Finally, it is
important to note that Innovation Network and Autonomous schools are not
isolated efforts, they are part of a larger plan with many complementary
strategies.

 

It took many
decades to create the current model for delivering public education. Building a
high-quality, next generation system will also take time. I look forward to
sharing our early successes with you as we transform IPS into the best urban
school system in the country.