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Another overhaul ahead for John Marshall High School

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee isn’t getting what he wants for John Marshall High School next year.

The State Board of Education last month rejected his idea to have Indianapolis Public Schools lead the transformation there by acting as its own state-designated “lead partner” to improve test scores and student performance at the low-performing East side school, which nearly was taken over by the state into 2012 after earning six straight years of F grades from the state because of low test scores.

The district, however, will get to work with an outside partners that helped make changes elsewhere in the district.

The New Teacher Project, an organization founded by the controversial Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, has been credited with helping improve test scores at Broad Ripple High School. The Indiana State Board of Education approved a nearly $300,000 contract with the New York-based nonprofit Wednesday to serve as lead partner for both schools.

Ferebee has asked the state to drop its contracts with lead partners including Scholastic Achievement Partners, Voyager Learning and The New Teacher Project, saying that his plan for the schools is a better use of resources and will be just as effective at performing high-need schools. He partly succeeded in June, getting the state to approve his plan to lead the takeover effort for only George Washington High School.

State officials hesitated giving the district back total control over John Marshall.

“I’d like to see a full school year of demonstrated success by IPS,” state board member Tony Walker said in June. “Quite frankly, we’re in the position of having to intervene because of IPS’ past failures with these schools.”

Schools that receive D or F letter grades from the state for six consecutive years risk state takeover, but when Broad Ripple and George Washington reached that point in 2011, the state gave them a lower level of intervention than four other IPS schools that were severed from district control to be run independently.

When John Marshall High School earned its sixth straight F grade from the state in 2012, the state board took a different route by signing onto former IPS superintendent Eugene White’s plan for the school. White hired Texas-based Voyager Learning under a $4 million contract in 2012 to work with nine schools that feed into the district with the option of eventually expanding to more.

At White’s urging, a skeptical state board agreed to try his plan, and allowed Voyager to become Marshall’s lead partner, routing federal dollars to support the plan.

The investment hasn’t paid off as board members had hoped. Marshall was rated a D last year on its state report card. Its students saw a three-point decline in the percentage of students passing high school end-of-course tests. Just 25 percent passed the exams.

While disappointed the state didn’t endorse his own plan, Ferebee told the board he could work with The New Teacher Project.

“I would say that The New Teacher Project is probably one of our stronger partners compared to Scholastic and Voyager,” Ferebee said in June. “We have a situation where we have a lead partner that has been (at Broad Ripple) for a longer period of time compared to the others. We believe that … it’s important for us to have a strong model for transformation.”

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