Local | April 25, 2014

New law provides tools to improve student achievement in Indy

As education leaders, we care deeply about the future of Indianapolis and believe that all students have the ability to excel. We also recognize that too many kids in our city are still failing to reach their potential.

To change this paradigm, we know we must provide more opportunities for students to attend world-class schools in Indianapolis. A law that passed during this year’s legislative session provides our community an unprecedented opportunity to do that by driving improvement from within the Indianapolis Public Schools district.

Public Law 1321 is focused on creating better opportunities for students in IPS.

At its core, the law is all about talent.

What do we mean by that?

The law empowers some of the best leaders from within our community and across the country to start excellent schools that have autonomy and accountability – conditions that are needed to unleash student success.

Under Public Law 1321, IPS can award vacant or underused school buildings to talented leaders to launch these schools, called "Innovation Network Schools." Public Law 1321 also allows IPS to replace its chronically underperforming schools with Innovation Network Schools.

These schools will operate under contract with IPS but will be exempt from district management and many rules, giving principals control over school-level decisions and teachers room to innovate. In addition to these key freedoms, Innovation Network School leaders will be highly accountable to the district for their performance, and they will have access to district resources, including, most importantly, buildings.

Public Law 1321 represents an exciting opportunity to grow the number of high-performing schools within IPS, but the law’s impact will be limited without strategic and coordinated efforts to leverage it.

That’s why we’re enthusiastic about The Mind Trust’s Innovation School Fellowship, which the nonprofit has launched in partnership with IPS to maximize leaders’ impact as they start Innovation Network Schools under Public Law 1321.

Since 2006, The Mind Trust has been working to empower the best talent from Indianapolis and across the nation to launch transformative schools and education initiatives in Indianapolis. Through its Education Entrepreneur Fellowship, The Mind Trust has helped to launch seven innovative nonprofits addressing key education challenges in Indianapolis, and The Mind Trust has launched or expanded five high-quality charter school networks through its Charter School Incubator. The Mind Trust’s Innovation School Fellowship builds upon this rich experience.

Through the fellowship, The Mind Trust will provide a full year’s salary and benefits to give those with bold visions for starting Innovation Network Schools the time they need to execute their ideas. Lack of planning time is one of the top challenges school leaders typically face as they seek to launch great schools, so giving Innovation School Fellows a year to plan will enhance their opportunity for success.

The Innovation School Fellowship also will provide Innovation Network School leaders with other important tools, including counsel from national school innovation and operations experts who can offer critical feedback on their school-design plans, access to a network of school incubation leaders and expertise from IPS officials who can provide insight on district operations.

Public Law 1321 provides our city with a powerful tool to transform academic outcomes within IPS, and The Innovation School Fellowship provides a critical means to maximize the law’s impact. Together, they represent an opportunity to change the life trajectories of thousands of students and reshape the future of our city.

These opportunities come by but once in a generation.

Let’s not let this one go to waste.

Ferebee is superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. Kloth is deputy mayor of education in Indianapolis. Harris is founder and CEO of The Mind Trust.