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Skeptical parents worry a move toward innovation and autonomy could hurt IPS

Dozens of parents and community members say they are done watching from the sidelines as leaders restructure Indianapolis Public Schools — they’re demanding a voice in the process.

The Indianapolis Public School Board is putting in place a strategy that calls for schools to run more independently, including partnerships with outside organizations — such as charter schools — at some schools.

But dissent is percolating in some corners of the IPS community.

A small crowd of nearly 40 parents and others that gathered tonight to discuss the district’s innovation and autonomy plan were overwhelmingly suspicious, raising concerns that it is undermining public schools and could culminate in an all-charter school system.

The NAACP-sponsored event was designed to encourage community members to participate in the district’s planning process. The group formed five action committees to push for more community influence on the plan, with groups working on research, legislation, media, parents and students.

Jennifer Olson, who has two sons at Sidener Academy and a daughter at Shortridge High School, said she worried that the district’s plan would hurt kids across the district.

“I just feel like they’re slowly dismantling the district,” she said. “It’s frightening to me. … I feel like there’s a lack of checks and balances (at innovation schools).”

Joseph Tucker Edmonds — an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor of Africana and religious studies who moderated the discussion — said that parents are engaged at the school level, but they need a voice during the district planning process.

“The board has not really provided clear avenues for parents and community members to be involved,” he said.

The first hurdle for the NAACP, however, may be raising awareness and understanding of the direction the board has charted.

Like many IPS parents, Dountonia Batts, whose son is a junior in the math and science magnet program at Arsenal Technical High School, said she doesn’t fully understand the district’s plan for reconfiguring schools.

“I’m really confused about what’s the difference between autonomy and innovation,” she said. “There’s no evidence that what they’re doing is getting better.”

Brandon Cosby — a former Shortridge High School principal who was fired for insubordination and the husband of board member Gayle Cosby — said the board could be doing more to collaborate with parents.

For example, Cosby said he spent 15 months working with parents and community members to plan the school before Shortridge reopened.

“Talking to the community after the fact of what we decided,” he said, “is not community engagement.”

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