At the November 9 Action and Work Sessions, the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners approved a school reconfiguration plan and discussed a pair of exciting initiatives for the future of the district.

 
School Configuration
 
Since the last Action Session in October, the IPS administration gathered valuable feedback from families and community members regarding the proposed reconfiguration of the district’s Visual and Performing Arts program. Input from online public surveys and meetings facilitated at Nicholson Performing Arts Academy, Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities and Key Learning Community was shared with Commissioners as the proposed reconfiguration was considered.

 
Commissioners voted in favor of the administration’s recommendation to relocate the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) elementary program and create a new Center for Inquiry School. Beginning in fall 2016, the VPA program currently at Mary E. Nicholson School 70 will be at Thomas A. Edison School 47, the current site of Key Learning Community. The larger building will allow the VPA program to expand from a K-5 to a K-8 school as Broad Ripple phases out middle school grades over the next couple of years and continues as the high school choice option for the VPA curriculum. All students currently at Nicholson Performing Arts Academy will be guaranteed enrollment at Edison.

 
The fourth CFI school will be located at Mary E. Nicholson; the school will open with grades K-5, adding higher grades over time to expand to a K-8 site. All 310 students currently on a waitlist for CFI programming will be offered a seat at the new location. General choice lottery logic (more information on the process can be found here) will use proximity priority, but will not assign students to the new site based upon geography. In other words, the school will have a districtwide boundary, serving students who reside at various locations within the district who apply. For students enrolling in CFI IV from the current waitlist, siblings applying to begin Kindergarten for SY 2016-17 will be given sibling priority. Current Nicholson Performing Arts Academy students will be given lottery preference if they choose to apply for the new CFI rather than opting to continue their VPA studies at Thomas A. Edison School 47.
 
The three current CFI principals spoke during the session to support the expansion of their program. CFI 2 Principal Andrea Hunley shared her personal story of the power of a magnet program to ignite students’ passion for learning.

 
“My parents found a magnet school for me,” said Hunley. “It happened to be on the other side of town, but it was a communications magnet focused on journalism and Spanish… That’s where my path took me through college as well, and I became an English teacher where I was able to share my passion and my love for media writing with my own students. I am beyond grateful that there were public school educators in Fort Wayne who were doing what we’re doing here; that’s promoting equity and access for all students. Since student interest in a theme is the only criteria for them to be able to go to a magnet school, it ensures that students from a wide range of backgrounds able to learn in the same classrooms. I tell you my story because I benefited directly from people like you; people who truly believe in education for all students.”

 
Remembering Amos Brown

 
Our community was shocked by the sudden death of journalist and community advocate Amos Brown. Mr. Brown had a long history of passionate support for the families in our community, and the Board issued the following resolution in his memory:

 
IN MEMORIAM TO AMOS C. BROWN III
WHEREAS, Amos Brown served as a powerful voice in, and for, the Indianapolis community for more than four decades; and
WHEREAS, Amos Brown became an institution in broadcasting and print journalism for his vigilant advocacy and determination to always ask the tough questions; and
WHEREAS, Amos Brown was a tireless advocate for those who were voiceless, marginalized, and underrepresented; and
WHEREAS, Amos Brown was a staunch defender of public education and a champion for Indianapolis Public Schools and its students and families; and
WHEREAS, the Board of School Commissioners appreciates the lifelong effort of Amos Brown to facilitate public discourse, and to elevate community awareness of important issues;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of School Commissioners hereby recognizes the substantial contributions that Amos Brown has made to the students and families of Indianapolis Public Schools and the City of Indianapolis.

Student-Based Budget

Commissioners learned more about the district’s work toward student-based budget allocations from Chief Financial Manager Weston Young and David Rosenberg of Education Resource Strategies (ERS), the consultant helping to implement this budget strategy in IPS. This new financial structure is designed to align with the Board’s Core Commitments & Beliefs, stating “District resources are allocated fairly and equitably among schools through the use of weighted student funding,” and IPS Strategic Plan 2015, stating “IPS will determine the most fair and equitable distribution of funds across the district by 2017, as measured by district data.”

During the current stage of the process, IPS financial leaders are working to define and quantify equity challenges within the district. Additional goals include assessing schools’ readiness for the student-based model, defining school-based design flexibilities and creating a weighted funding model to determine how money is distributed to each school.

Next steps include developing an implementation plan for the budget model to ensure a successful transition for schools. Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee and Commissioners agreed it is important to have a clearly defined bailout plan for schools that might encounter obstacles in their first year of the new budget system.

Autonomy/Innovation Update

Innovation Officer Aleesia Johnson shared an update with Commissioners on the district’s plans regarding Autonomous schools. The Board approved an initial framework for autonomy in October outlining broad parameters and pathways for traditional (district-managed) schools to convert to autonomous (site-managed) or innovation (partner-managed) schools; now the work is underway to select the pilot cohort for this student achievement strategy.

IPS principals are invited to apply for the pilot cohort if they choose. To be considered for autonomy, schools must exhibit organizational capacity as well as stakeholders’ desire to become autonomous. A school’s leadership team must demonstrate the support of families, community partners and employees to ensure success as an Autonomous school. School leaders who submit an intent letter may be invited for an interview with district leadership to discuss what their future would look like as the head of an Autonomous school. Further, they may be invited to complete the full application process based on the interview results. Schools applying to convert to autonomy would receive district guidance and support throughout their transition.

While many schools may be ready for autonomy, the district plans to start with a pilot cohort of six to eight Autonomous schools. To maintain a diverse group, at least two of these schools will be elementary, two will be secondary and two will be magnet programs/choice schools. Interviews and selection are expected to conclude this winter.

Commissioners also discussed the process of restarting an underperforming IPS school as an Innovation Network school. Ms. Johnson outlined the district’s recommended timeline for addressing achievement gaps in traditional schools. A school receiving an accountability grade of “F” for three consecutive years or a school deemed by the district as chronically low-performing would be eligible to restart as an Innovation Network school. In the first and second years a school receives an “F,” the school would receive targeted supports from the district as the principal implements an improvement plan. If the school continued to receive a failing grade, district leaders could discuss the school’s eligibility for an Innovation restart. Other options for a consistently underperforming school could include reconstitution, transition to a magnet program/choice school or potential closure of the school.