The Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners voted to support the district’s framework for Autonomy and Innovation – what’s next?


While the goal of the district is to increase school autonomy, which means providing all schools with the opportunity to exercise more freedom in planning their curricula, activities, operations and budgets, this is far from an overnight transformation. The Board has gestured support of the administration’s proposed basic structure of the Autonomy and Innovation models, and the IPS administration is now taking the conversation out into our community.


Members of our core leadership team are hosting a series of conversations with diverse stakeholder groups to share the components of the broad structure and gather important feedback; their goal is to learn what’s most important to our employees, families and neighbors, and what types of flexibilities and freedoms best suit the needs of our schools to support student success.


It’s important to note that this will not be an overnight transition in school management; rather the district has been encouraged by our Board to coach schools into readiness for an empowering and independent management structure on their own time. The Autonomy/Innovation framework is the beginning of a strategic effort to support increases in student achievement.


As we seek input on how to best build upon the approved foundation and what autonomies should be available to our schools, Innovation Officer Aleesia Johnson is already collaborating with IPS leaders to begin the selection process for schools seeking to join the Autonomy pilot program.


“The end goal is improving student achievement,” said Johnson. “We will carefully determine which schools are ready to take on additional levels of flexibility and authority so that we can move the needle on student achievement. It’s about organizational capacity, school readiness and school desire to take these things on.”


As some schools are chosen to participate in a pilot program for site-based budget operations, those school leaders will experience greater flexibility in hiring and operational decisions than in the traditional school model. The tiers of flexibility and independence that will be available to IPS schools include:


Traditional Schools

District-managed schools which currently have autonomy in the following areas:

  • student grouping
  • positive behavior model
  • formative assessment selection
  • technology device selection
  • teacher participation in district-designed professional development
  • title I budget


Staff members in traditional schools remain district employees; teachers operate within the collective bargaining agreement.

Autonomous Schools

Site-managed schools which have autonomy in the same areas as traditional district-managed schools as well as:

  • instructional methods
  • time in instructional day
  • content and funding for professional development
  • student-based budget allocation


Staff members in traditional schools remain district employees; teachers operate within the collective bargaining agreement.

Innovation Schools

Partner-managed schools which have autonomy in the following areas:

  • all academic programming and structures
  • all operations-related schools functions


Operators enter legal agreement with the district and operate subject to all applicable state and federal regulations.  Staff members are employed by school operator, and teachers do not operate under the district collective bargaining agreement but may create their own bargaining unit.



“This is a huge shift for Central Services as well,” said Johnson. “It will require a lot of changes in the way that we serve schools. There is onus on us as a district to ensure what we are providing our schools is what they value and what they need. If not, as autonomous schools they might choose other academic supports; they will have the absolute right to do that. And innovation schools have the right to choose who they would like for both their academic and operational services.”


Whether it’s a traditional, Autonomous or Innovation school model, IPS is committed to ensuring our educators are given the necessary tools to promote student achievement. In the changing landscape of education, we cannot rely on a one-dimensional model for school improvement.


“We’re definitely reinventing ourselves, but we have to,” said Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee. “We’ve made some progress, but we have more work to do. I think the fundamental challenge that Commissioners and I share is that we don’t have a great school in every neighborhood. I think this is a plan to help us create those options for every child.”