Local | April 23, 2014

Fellowships to offer $100,000 for educators to develop ideas for IPS

Indianapolis Public Schools principals or teachers with smart ideas for how to overhaul low-rated district schools could get $100,000 and a year off to develop them into concrete plans.

The district, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and The Mind Trust jointly announced new “innovation school fellowships” tonight with the goal of one day seeing the school board sign off on using models created through the year of study to revive failing district schools.

“We know the more time you have, and the more thought going into the deign of a reform model, it is typically more successful,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “This is an opportunity to take a year and refine the details of a model that will be implemented in 2015-16 in one of our schools eligible for House Bill 1321 reform.”

That bill, passed in March by the legislature, gave IPS the power to hire charter schools or other independent teams of educators to run low-rated IPS schools with more autonomy that a typical IPS school. It was controversial, as teachers unions raised concerns that IPS teaching jobs could be reassigned to outside organizations, forcing teachers out of the union and out from under the job protections and pay minimums of the district’s union contract.

Ferebee and union leaders have been working toward a memorandum of understanding about how the district and the union would work together when schools become “innovation schools,” and Ferebee said those talks are still ongoing.
The fellowships would be granted to up to three applicants per year and David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said the group, a non-profit that supports educational change efforts in Indianapolis, would commit to providing or raising funds for nine fellows over three years.

“Nothing like this is being done in the country to create autonomous schools in partnership with the district,” he said. “It kind of combines the best of what districts do and what charters do.”

The idea mirrors another successful Mind Trust initiative, its education entrepreneur fellowship. That program provides a year of support for successful applicants to develop education reform ideas on the condition that they launch them in Indianapolis. The program draws interest from around the country, with seven fellows having been selected from 3,500 applicants.

Harris said he expects strong interest in the innovation fellowships locally and nationally. It is targeting local educators in IPS and charter schools but open to educators anywhere.

“My sense is were gong to have interest not just in Indianapolis but from around the country,” Harris said.

Still, Ferebee said he is hopeful IPS educators will be among those with the best ideas. He pointed to Project Restore, a school reform model invented by two School 99 teachers now operating also at School 88, as an example of the kind of ideas he hopes to see. Project Restore focused on consistent discipline, built-in reviews of content that’s been covered and frequent check up tests to drive strong test score improvements at both its schools.

At today’s school board meeting, parents presented more than 200 signatures asking the board to bring Project Restore to a third school, School 93.

Ferebee specifically said he was open to models that experimented with longer school days or a longer school year or programs built around a curricular focus like science, arts, project learning, single gender instruction or informed by brain research.

Ferebee said he frequently hears creative ideas for making change from teachers.

“It comes up a lot,” he said. “Teachers have a lot of ideas. I believe teachers are looking for opportunities for leadership. This approach for the fellowship satisfied both of those needs.”

Besides pay and a year away, fellows will receive health benefits and office space.

The application timeline is aggressive. Statements of interest in the fellowship will be due by May 15 followed by a full application by June 1. A selection committee aims to make its choices by June 25.

When the fellowship year is complete, the models created will come to the IPS board for consideration to be used at low-rated IPS neighborhood schools. It will be up to the board whether to use the models and where to place them. A three to five year evaluation plan would likely accompany the contract, with expectations of progress by the end of the second year, Ferebee said.

Information about how to apply will be posted on the Mind Trust website.