School board members traveling to peer cities is nothing new, but when Shelby County members head to Indianapolis next week, they will be on a mission to check out that city’s specific vision for how districts operate — one that Memphis has moved toward with reluctance.
Indianapolis’ school board has supported the transition to a “portfolio” model where district control is decentralized and various entities directly operate schools — including charters, state-run schools, and schools similar to Memphis’ Innovation Zone for struggling schools.
The Memphis Education Fund is sponsoring the school board members’ visit there. The Memphis Education Fund receives support from several local philanthropies, including The Pyramid Peak Foundation and the Hyde Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives support from Hyde; read about our funding here.) The fund’s leader, Marcus Robinson spent 12 years leading a charter network in Indianapolis before coming to Memphis last year. At least three board members — Stephanie Love, Kevin Woods, and Miska Clay Bibbs — are slated to make the trip on Wednesday through Friday.
Board Chairwoman Shante Avant will not be going, but she said from the little she knows about the Circle City, she admires the cooperation between various school operators — including a new common enrollment system.
“They are working so that all schools are really optimized and they see themselves as one entity or body focused on supporting kids in their community,” Avant told Chalkbeat.
Shelby County Schools resembles a portfolio model with charters, district-run schools that operate similarly to charters, and state-run schools. But unlike districts that have embraced the model, Shelby County Schools has fought to keep students in their direct-run schools rather than other types. A recent dispute with state-run charters has escalated to the point where Shelby County Schools is poised to go to court with the state over handing over student contact information to charters to recruit away from district schools.
This is not the first time the cities’ education leaders have swapped ideas. Indianapolis Public Schools and city officials, along with nonprofit education organization Mind Trust came to Memphis last year to learn how the district’s iZone manages principal autonomy.