IPS outlines a plan: a restart for School 42 and a reprieve for two other schools

After years of low test scores, an elementary school on the north side of Indianapolis Public Schools is likely to be restarted with a new principal and new teachers next year. But two other schools have gotten a reprieve.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee will recommend that the district restart School 42 as an innovation school, according to a presentation posted today on the IPS board website. The administration is not pushing to restart School 63 or John Marshall Middle School, two struggling schools that were also facing restart with new leaders at the helm and teachers required to reapply for positions.

The board plans to discuss the three schools at its meeting 6 p.m. Thursday. However, it is not expected to make a final decision.

All three schools are facing some clear challenges. They have persistently low passing rates on state tests, and they have gotten several years of F grades from the state because of their students’ low scores.

School 42, which has been a district “priority school” for two years, is also grappling with unstable leadership. Principal Donald Caudle, who took over last year, is leaving in March. The Fayetteville Observer reported earlier this month that he was hired as principal of a North Carolina elementary school. The administration is recommending that the school restart as an innovation school, but it does not mention a specific manager to takeover the school.

As an innovation school, School 42 would still be considered part of the district but it would be managed by an outside operator such as a charter school network. Innovation schools are the most controversial turnaround strategies Ferebee’s administration has pursued in part because teachers would need to reapply for their jobs, the school manager would employ most of the educators at the school and they would not be part of the union that represents teachers in district schools.

IPS has restarted a handful of struggling neighborhood schools as innovation schools over the last two years but it is not yet clear whether the approach will boost test scores.

The presentation suggests that the administration is more optimistic about the future of School 63, which has had the same principal for two and a half years and is part of a transformation zone, a targeted turnaround effort that IPS launched last year that includes extra coaching and training for teachers. The school saw a 3 percentage point jump in the ISTEP passing rate last year. The recommendation calls for continuing current efforts to improve the school.

Although John Marshall also appears to have been spared from restart, its future is uncertain. The school has rock-bottom test scores, and parents earlier this year led a campaign for the district to improve the school. The district already plans to convert the school from a combined middle and high school to a dedicated middle school next year. The current proposal also calls for a new principal and adding it to the transformation zone.