IPS says it wants school board's blessing for move toward more freedom for schools

The Indianapolis School Board expects to vote next week on a “framework” for shifting the district toward a system with more freedom for principals and schools over the next three years.

The basics of the plan were shared last month, but Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and district leaders said Monday at a work session that they wanted the board’s blessing to continue shaping the plan. The board meets Oct. 27 to discuss its agenda and Oct. 29 to vote.

There are still several steps before the school system more fully empowers schools and shifts the central office toward a service center rather than a command center, administrators said.

“We should think of this always as an active strategy and not an end goal in itself,” said the district’s innovation chief, Aleesia Johnson.

The plan would put schools in three categories next year:

  • Traditionally managed schools. These schools will be directly overseen by the central office, as schools mostly have been in the past.
  • Autonomous schools. At these schools, principals will work in conjunction with a new governing board to manage their schools’ budget, curriculum, school day length, staffing and teacher training decisions locally.
  • Innovation network schools. These are schools that are externally managed through a partnership, such as IPS School 103. It is being managed independently by Phalen Leadership Academies, a charter school network.

Johnson said there are four ways a school can become an innovation school:

  • The district can decide to house a charter school in the building.
  • A district school can request to convert to an innovation school.
  • The district can “restart” a persistently failing school with new leadership and curriculum.
  • The district can start an entirely new school in one of its buildings, such as the new Emma Donnan Elementary School, which is sharing space in the same building as Emma Donnan Middle School.

Conversion schools must create a nonprofit governing board to help guide the principal.

If the board approves, more details will come, such as a process for schools to apply to become either an autonomous school or to join the innovation school network.

Board members asked that IPS give guidance to help schools that want to convert to innovation schools pick diverse board members with high expectations.

“How do make sure they don’t choose board members who won’t hold them accountable?” board member Gayle Cosby asked.

Johnson said the IPS board must ultimately approve any school’s plan, giving the board members a chance to ask those questions.

“There really should be a clear set of questions that has to be documented that these aren’t just good educators, they really do understand cultural diversity,” board member Sam Odle said.

The board will consider four recommendations next week, Johnson said:

  • Green-lighting the district to create a process for selecting autonomous or innovation schools.
  • Allowing IPS to collaborate with outside organizations, such as the consultant ERS, on strategic design work for the schools.
  • Giving the district leeway to identify other elements of school management it can allow autonomous schools to control.
  • Permitting administrators to create new systems of collaboration across divisions of central services.

Also coming is a plan for giving information, and getting feedback, from parents and schools. Odle and Cosby said that should be a high priority.

“How do we communicate the whole thing to parents,” Odle asked, “so they feel they are getting something versus losing something?”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.