SBOE Committee Collects Input on Progress of IPS Turnaround Schools, Next Steps

indiana-sealStudent academic gains and recommended policy and oversight improvements highlighted comments shared with the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) Committee on School Turnarounds this morning as they discussed progress made by turnaround schools academies within Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). The Committee provided an overview of the history of turnaround efforts in Indiana, expressed its goals, heard public comment, gathered input and participated in constructive dialogue with IPS, Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), and the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation (OEI). They also received recommendations from all parties on potential SBOE policy, oversight and resource allocation improvements that they felt would be beneficial to the state’s turnaround efforts.

Public Law 221, enacted in 1999, authorized potential interventions in Indiana schools that had received failing grades for six consecutive years as determined by Indiana’s school accountability system. The goal of the interventions was to “turn around” perennially low-performing schools and ensure students in these schools demonstrated academic growth. In fall 2011, the SBOE implemented interventions at seven Indiana schools. Arlington, Howe and Manual High Schools and Emma Donnan Middle School at IPS were assigned third-party turnaround school operators to lead the turnaround efforts. The Turnaround Committee was created this summer to assess the progress of these turnaround schools during their third year of intervention.

“Bipartisan law enacted this process to ensure children weren’t relegated to attending an underperforming school,” said Dan Elsener, SBOE Committee on School Turnarounds Chair. “As a state, we have a civic duty and moral obligation to ensure all students have equal and equitable access to a quality education.”

IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee offered three recommendations to transition the former Arlington High School from Tindley Academies back to IPS, including: combining the student population with an existing IPS school in close proximity (preferably Marshall High School); transitioning approximately 700 students into the existing Arlington population by expanding the school’s grade configuration to K-12 utilizing HEA 1321, enacted during the 2014 session; and employing a transition-year model in which Arlington would close for the 2015-16 school year and reopen the next year under a new configuration.

“We believe option A is the option that provides greater consistency for students and allow us to operate a school as large as Arlington,” said Dr. Ferebee. “The Arlington facility is far superior to the Marshall facility and can be utilized effectively as a 7th-12th grade school.”

The Committee also heard comments from Carol Craig, a retired IPS principal, who spoke on behalf of several community organizations, including the NAACP. She also submitted a concept paper that offered pragmatic recommendations that are components of successful community schools. She said their proposal mirrored principles developed by the Coalition for Community Schools, which is an alliance of national, state and local organizations and education leaders.

John Hage, President and CEO of CSUSA, outlined its proposed plans at Howe, Manual and Emma Donnan, which consisted of three primary components:

Execution of a five-year contract extension with SBOE to provide continuity and stability for students and retain effective educators.
Allow expanded grade levels (k-12) beginning the 2015-2016 school year to create an opportunity for increased enrollment and long-term sustainability.
Allow flexibility to re-configure grades that addresses underutilization of space, specifically in the case of Emma Donnan, which is only able for 7th & 8th grades.

Hage also expressed willingness for CSUSA to serve as Arlington’s lead partner under an expanded K-12 “Community School” model, noting with caveat several issues that would first need to be addressed prior to any formal transition plan being considered. Although invited, Tindley Academies, the current turnaround operator at Arlington, did not participate in the Committee’s dialogue.

“I’d like to thank everyone for the great exchange of ideas and recommendations today. I believe we have heard the same two concepts being consistently applied this morning,” said Elsener. “First, a systemic K-12 approach is needed rather than interjecting a new instructional method at the 7th or 9th grade level. Also, the SBOE needs to facilitate much clearer roles and responsibilities for all parties involved--from the school district to the turnaround operator to the oversight provider.”

Brandon Brown, Director of Charter Schools with the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation, noted the City assumed oversight of the four Indianapolis turnaround schools after successfully petitioning the State Board of Education in early 2013. OEI assessed both IPS’s Arlington transition plan and CSUSA’s plans for Howe, Manual and Emma Donnan. Brown said the turnaround academies have shown academic gains since CSUSA and Tindley Accelerated Schools assumed operation in 2012-13, but also acknowledged that there are still clear areas for growth at each of the schools.

“These schools are qualitatively and quantitatively much better off than three years ago,” said Brown. “We would like to see a model that features charter-like autonomy within a school district, which both enables innovation and offers the economies of scale of a district, in areas such as transportation, maintenance and food services.”

In the final course of discussion, the Committee noted that Public Impact, an organization with expertise in school turnaround efforts, would be participating at its October 22 meeting in Evansville and its final meeting November 17 in Indianapolis. Public Impact will analyze progress made by the state’s eight turnaround academies, develop lessons learned to date from those academies, share national best practices and offer policy and implementation improvement recommendations to the Committee. The Committee will then share its findings with the SBOE at its December meeting. The SBOE may then take action on any proposed policies and make recommendations to the Governor and the legislature.

For more information about today’s meeting, including resources and presentations, visit