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Mind Trust sees strong early interest in innovation fellowships

School 88 last year instituted Project Restore, a program invented by a pair of IPS teachers. (Scott Elliott)
School 88 last year instituted Project Restore, a program invented by a pair of IPS teachers. (Scott Elliott)

With a week still to go before its first deadline, more than 200 educators have already expressed interest in a $100,000 fellowship for innovators to develop concepts to turn around troubled Indianapolis Public Schools offered last month by the The Mind Trust in conjunction with Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.

Mind Trust officials said they are pleased with the early response. About 66 of the 207 prospects have attended informational meetings or webinars about the fellowship. The next webinar will be held on Tuesday. Go here for details.

The first deadline is also next week. A relatively simple statement of intent to apply for the fellowship is due by May 15, followed by a full application by June 1. A selection committee aims to make its choices by June 25.

The fellowships will be granted to up to three applicants per year and The Mind Trust, a non-profit that supports educational change efforts in Indianapolis, has committed to raising funds for up to nine fellows over three years. Each will take a sabbatical year to work on their ideas for how to dramatically improve schools.

The idea is modeled after 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. Seven fellows having been selected from 3,500 applicants since 2008, with applications coming from 48 states and 36 countries.

In March, 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.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has said he hopes IPS teachers are among those who come up with new models designed through the fellowship. If so, they could follow the path of Project Restore, a school reform model invented by two School 99 teachers now operating also at School 88. Project Restore drove strong test score improvements at both its schools.

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

If IPS selects one of the models created by the fellows, Ferebee said he envisioned a three to five year evaluation plan would likely accompany the contract, with expectations of progress by the end of the second year.

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

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