Indianapolis Public Schools likes to brag these days about Project Restore, a home-grown school improvement plan invented by two of its teachers that has helped turn schools around.

But today, the whole idea of giving teachers the freedom to try out new ideas the way Tammy Laughner and Dan Kriech did at School 99 went statewide. It’s no longer just something clever happening in a few IPS classrooms.

Gov. Mike Pence this morning held a signing ceremony for House Bill 1009, which allows for “innovation network schools” anywhere in Indiana, at the second Project Restore site, School 88, to highlight the newfound flexibility he touted to teachers everywhere.

“We will take the concept of ‘innovation network schools’ from the heart of our state to the four corners of our state and make it possible for freedom to teach and innovation schools to be a reality in every school district in the state of Indiana,” Pence said surrounded by elementary school kids in the gym.

Project Restore aims to improve discipline through consistent rule enforcement and promote better student learning through frequent testing and review of what’s been taught.

Pence signs House Bill 1009 while IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee (left) and Indiana House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, and School 88 students look on.
Pence signs House Bill 1009 while IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee (left) and Indiana House Education Committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, and School 88 students look on.
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Elliott

School 88, named the first Project Restore expansion site in the fall of 2012, jumped from an F to an A in one year on the strength of a 19-point jump on ISTEP to 56 percent passing. About 90 percent of School 88’s students come from families poor enough to qualify for federal lunch aid, 78 percent are ethnic minorities and 18 percent are in special education.

Last year, School 93 also adopted the program.

The district was able to more easily expand the program using an “innovation school network,” special flexibility in state law which previously applied only to IPS, to allow more school districts to partner with outside groups, such as charter school networks or in this case the organization Laughner and Kriech formed to expand Project Restore.

But Project Restore started before the law was in existence. The district has mostly used its newfound flexibility to partner with charter schools, including Phalen Leadership Academy, to try to improve struggling schools. The school board will vote tonight to work with charter school groups Enlace Academy and KIPP.

House Bill 1009 was once the “freedom to teach” bill, which would have made big changes to rules surrounding teachers unions, but that concept was scaled back and the bill was rewritten to emphasize the innovation school approach.

The final bill also includes a “career pathways” pilot program, which IPS had lobbied for. The district is working on ideas to give extra pay to teachers who take on leadership roles.