State Board approves new lead partner, but IPS uncertain about next steps

The Indiana State Board of Education voted to approve a new lead partner for Indianapolis Public Schools’ John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools today, after a month’s delay.

Marzano Research Laboratories, a Denver-based firm, was picked to aid the two struggling high schools, which narrowly avoided state takeover after six straight years of F grades because of low test scores.

The vote was tabled in October because board member Sarah O’Brien thought an outside group should weigh in on the specific roles and responsibilities of both IPS and Marzano within the partnership before a contract was offered. Public Impact, a national consulting firm, gave a general presentation at a school turnaround committee meeting about such partnerships, which O’Brien reassured her.

However, IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he’s not really sure what the next steps are for IPS and Marzano. Although IPS was part of the process to select Marzano as the new partner, Ferebee said, there was no conversation about responsibilities of each party.

“It was suggested today that we would be moving from a co-leadership model to a sole-leadership model with Marzano,” Ferebee said. “We’d like to be more involved in those conversations to see where that goes. But obviously we are in the middle of the school year, so I also think it’ll be important to hammer out who’s going to be accountable for the results this year and who’s going to be accountable going forward.”

In this partnership, a less severe penalty than state takeover, an outside company consults with the district to lead turnaround efforts, but the district keeps managing the school. In state takeover, the school is severed from district control and turned over to an outside group to be run independently.

Lead partner arrangements have frequently been fraught with struggles between districts and partner organizations. IPS struggled to find common ground with The New Teacher Project, a New York-based group that state board originally picked to be its lead partner. The group withdrew from negotiations with IPS and the state in September, prompting another search for a replacement.

The new partnership could mean Marzano has more control over teaching staff than the previous lead partner, but how that relationship will play out with IPS is uncertain. Ferebee agreed with state board member Dan Elsener that communication would be important to a successful partnership.

“The more clarity, the more engagement, the more that all parties are in the process, the more successful this initiative will be,” Ferebee said. “Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to have a seat at the table.”