The Winter Retreat of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners included discussion on career readiness, the 2016 legislative agenda, and the framework for Autonomous and Innovation Schools. The retreat began with an update on an exciting expansion of the career readiness initatives currently in place with Junior Achievement of Central Indiana (JA). JA has committed to a new career readiness program, focused on exposing IPS students to a variety of potential careers in preparation for their successful transition to the workforce.


More than 40 local businesses have signed on for this initiative, with a goal of bringing career highlights to all IPS students. Signature portions of the initiative include the JobSpark event, a two-day industry-led career expo at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which will share lucrative workforce possibilities with all IPS 8th grade students. Continued supports include active career mentors to encourage IPS high school students to pursue engaging careers with a comfortable living wage after graduation from IPS or their chosen higher education institution.


Commissioners also discussed the proposed 2016 legislative agenda developed by IPS administration and lobbyists from Faegre Baker Daniels. The main areas of focus are maintaining a strong teacher pool, Innovation Network Schools, and financial stability.


IPS has identified the content area test currently required to enter a Transition to Teaching program as an unnecessary barrier for uniquely qualified potential educators. Since their Transition to Teaching coursework trains professionals in the skills necessary to effectively educate students in their content area, the district will encourage lawmakers to remove this obstacle keeping some potential educators from pursuing a teaching career. The district also seeks to require a 30-day notice for teachers resigning from IPS schools.


As lawmakers continue to clarify definitions within Innovation Network legislation, IPS lobbyists plan to begin the conversation surrounding which schools may be restarted as Innovation Network schools. Currently, schools must be vacant, underutilized, or underenrolled; district leaders suggest adding the flexibility to restart low-performing boundary schools in the Innovation Network with an operating partner. Lobbyists will also push for a four-year window after a school is restarted in the Innovation Network before it can be considered for state takeover; this would give school leaders a chance to turn around a previously struggling school.


Commissioners continued an ongoing discussion with Innovation Officer Aleesia Johnson on the definitions and guidelines for schools seeking inclusion in the Innovation Network. In previous conversations, commissioners shared the importance of imperatives including the Core Commitments and Beliefs, IPS Strategic Plan 2015, ensuring equity and access for all students and addressing student mobility, and disparities in outcomes when informing decisions regarding our emerging framework for Autonomous and Innovation schools. With these thoughts in mind, Johnson shared recommendations and next steps for the continued progress of the district’s path toward increased management flexibility for proven school leaders.


With the guiding question “What expectations will serve as the foundation from which all schools operate?” in mind, Ms. Johnson shared the following district recommendations with commissioners:

  • All schools are expected to offer non-core content courses (arts, physical education, etc.), and a proposal would be required for a nontraditional inclusion of these content areas (i.e., Playworks for physical education).
  • A minimum of 50 minutes daily of English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math instruction
    • With 60 minutes daily ELA instruction for grades 3-5 and 60 minutes daily Math instruction for grades K-5
  • Submission of an annual family/community engagement plan with metrics aligned to a school community needs assessment


Commissioners agreed these points could serve as suggestions for guidelines as administrative leaders submit their required school plans for consideration when applying for the Innovation Network. Continued conversation included an inquiry about data on equity in opportunities outside of the classroom – specifically field trips – that could be accessed through a survey series coming to schools districtwide in the coming year.


The other guiding question discussed by commissioners and Ms. Johnson was “What are the expectations for Conversion Innovation Schools’ Board composition?” Commissioners and Johnson agreed on the concept that the board representing the 501c3 established for an Innovation School created within IPS would serve in an advisory capacity to the school’s administration. Commissioners specified, however, that final governance over the school would rest with the IPS Board of School Commissioners, given that all Innovation Network Schools still fall under the district’s enrollment and are our responsibility. With this in mind, the board created for a school converted into the Innovation Network will be considered an Advisory Board.


Next steps for the Office of Innovation include using feedback from this discussion as a foundation for defining future school-based decision-making flexibilities, and finalizing the Innovation application to reflect feedback gathered at the winter retreat.