A look back on the biggest stories of 2018 in Indianapolis Public Schools

It was a tumultuous year for Indianapolis Public Schools — and one that ended with a dramatic change in leadership.

The district’s growing number of innovation schools won national praise from charter advocates. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee touted the district’s decentralized, autonomous schools in front of charter-friendly groups such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Capping off the year, Ferebee’s selection as the new chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school district affirmed both his rise and the district’s among national education circles.

But on the ground, some teachers and community members raised concerns over proposals to convert schools under the innovation strategy and the upheaval that those changes could wreak. Unhappiness also brewed over high school closures.

And underlying the year was a tough financial situation, which drove the district to ask for more funding through property tax increases, re-negotiating the requests until they were palatable to business leaders.

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of 2018 in Indianapolis Public Schools.

Inside an innovation restart

Indianapolis Public Schools now has some 20 innovation schools. Go beyond the political divisions to peer inside one to see what the changes mean for students, parents, and educators.

At School 42, some parents were initially wary about a proposal to restart the chronically struggling school with an outside operator. One year in, they talk about the added extracurricular activities, the new approach to discipline, and the increased community engagement. They also talk about the teachers who left and the steep challenges the school still faces.

Read more: Inside a struggling Indianapolis school during its pivotal first year of innovation

Who will be in charge?

The school board is expected to start its search for a new superintendent in January. While some board members say they’d like someone who will continue Ferebee’s innovation schools strategy, it remains to be seen whether the entire board will agree — particularly newcomers skeptical of the approach.

One big question is whether the board will conduct a national search to bring in another outsider for the job, or whether board members will look internally for a homegrown leader, such as interim superintendent Aleesia Johnson. Read on to see why she would be likely to continue Ferebee’s innovation strategy.

Read more: What you need to know about Aleesia Johnson, IPS’ interim superintendent

A power shift

Two outsiders who have been critical of the Indianapolis Public Schools board defeated incumbents in November’s election, a change that could prove pivotal for a district that has garnered a national reputation for its partnerships with charter schools.

Read more: How backlash to big changes in Indianapolis Public Schools fueled board upsets

Follow the money

Indiana’s largest school system is embarking on an unusual, three-year partnership with the local chamber of commerce designed to carry out extensive cuts that the business group proposed for balancing the district’s budget, including possible school closures, reduced transportation, and staff reductions.

Read more: IPS and Indy Chamber outline unconventional three-year partnership to cut spending

National spotlight

A high-profile “60 Minutes” interview with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos highlighted an Indianapolis innovation school, Cold Spring School.

Cold Spring was the location for one of the most awkward moments of the segment, when “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl asked DeVos if it hurt to be “the most hated Cabinet secretary.”

Read more: You probably didn’t notice Betsy DeVos was at an Indianapolis school on ‘60 Minutes’

Something different

Purdue Polytechnic High School doesn’t have traditional classrooms. That’s because its founders are aiming to redesign high school with the ultimate, ambitious goal of creating a school that will prepare more students for degrees in science, technology, math, and engineering — particularly students of color and those from low-income families.

Read more: Purdue is trying to upend the traditional high school model. Here’s what it looks like

Teacher leadership

Indianapolis Public Schools educators at School 107 say a new teacher leadership program, known as opportunity culture, has dramatically stemmed teacher turnover: It gives new teachers, who can often feel overwhelmed, support. And it allows experienced teachers to take on more responsibility without leaving the classroom.

Read more: Teachers kept quitting this Indianapolis school. Here’s how the principal got them to stay

Holding the reins

Indianapolis’ largest district is pursuing a new vision for education that aims to shift power from the central office to building principals. But as leaders move forward with their plan, they are facing a host of questions over how — and when — to cede control.

Read more: As Indianapolis moves to give principals more freedom, tough choices are on the horizon