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A student with a "golden ticket" for a skating party as a reward for good work at School 93. As a Project Restore school, it is an example of an IPS school that operates with a degree of independence.

A student with a “golden ticket” for a skating party as a reward for good work at School 93. As a Project Restore school, it is an example of an IPS school that operates with a degree of independence.

Scott Elliott

IPS will free up schools next year with the Mind Trust’s help

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee want to give out money in Indianapolis Public Schools based on student needs and let each principal have wide freedom to make decisions about who they hire and how they spend.

But it’s going to take a couple of years to get there, he told the Indianapolis Public School Board tonight.

For next year, Ferebee plans to select just a group of schools to pilot the new system of school funding and autonomy.

But after that, with the help of the non-profit group The Mind Trust, there will be a strong push to turn more IPS schools into independently-run “innovation schools.”

That could prove controversial, as the Mind Trust, which pushes for educational change in Indianapolis, envisions a stable of schools operating as non-profits that are managed without direct district oversight under contracts.

That would mean, for example, the schools could choose to hire teachers who work for them, not the district, removing the worker protections of the IPS union contract.

Innovation schools were made possible by a 2013 law created by House Bill 1321. The bill was crafted with input from Ferebee and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office to give IPS the freedom to partner with external groups, such as charter school networks, or internal groups of educators to encourage new ideas for managing schools.

The first such partnership was launched this year with Phalen Leadership Academies, a charter school network, managing IPS School 103.

The Mind Trust help sparked that partnership through its $100,000 “innovation school fellowships,” which picked Phalen and two other groups to develop school reform plans to independently run IPS schools under the 2013 law.

The new “education empowerment grants” will offer $50,000 to support planning for IPS principals who want to develop similar plans to become innovation schools.

David Harris, The Mind Trust co-founder and CEO, said one of the lessons his group has learned is that school leaders need planning time to have a good shot at starting an effective school or turning around a troubled school.

“We think this is a really big deal unlike anything in the country,” he said.

The Mind Trust, he said, now supports three routes to starting a school: it incubates new charter schools, provides $100,000 innovation fellowships to create innovation schools and now offers the new $50,000 grants to bring innovation to existing IPS schools.

“We now have all of these pathways to starting a school,” he said.

Ferebee said, in essence, a group of schools will be selected next year to pilot the implementation of the new weighted, or “student-based” budget system.

“There is a lot of professional learning that has to develop to be successful,” he said.

IPS innovation officer Aleesia Johnson said by next year IPS schools will be in three groups: traditional schools funded under the current budgeting model; autonomous schools funded using the new “weighted” budgeting model; and innovation schools, run independently under contract.

But the long term goal, she said, is to have all schools operating autonomously either under weighted budgeting or as innovation schools.

“It will allow some of our traditional schools to move to the innovation pathway when they are ready,” she said.

That raised a question for board member Gayle Cosby.

“Is there a place for traditional schools down the road?” she asked.

Johnson answered: “That depends on how we define ‘traditional.’”