IPS announces plan to turn around troubled schools

Indianapolis Public Schools have announced a groundbreaking plan to turn around its most troubled schools.
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The Indianapolis Public School system is trying a new approach to fix its failing schools.

IPS is starting a competition for creative educators, with the winners allowed to create unique curriculums for several IPS schools.

Indianapolis leaders say the news is big for students, families and educators. The plan, a first-of-its kind in the country, hopes to turn around the most troubled IPS schools through a competition for innovative school fellowship grants.

"We're primed to bring out the best talent and I think this competition, this fellowship experience, will definitely do that for us and our families," said IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee.

The district has teamed up with The Mind Trust, a not-for-profit education improvement group, to make it happen. This program takes advantage of a new state law which allows IPS to create autonomous schools that contract with outside teams to run them, yet still utilize district resources like buildings and transportation.

Here's how the competition will work: people with unique ideas on how to create high-performing schools will apply for $100,000 grants, plus benefits. Applications are available now.

They're due by June 1st and winners will be announced by July.

Watch a video about the project

Those selected with the best ideas will have a year to design, develop and launch a new curriculum at one of nine failing IPS Schools (those which have been graded with a D or an F for the past three years).

"This kind of opportunity doesn't exist for any other school district in the country, let alone Indiana," explained David Harris, founder and CEO of The Mind Trust. "IPS is the only district that has a chance to take advantage of this."

Anyone can apply for the fellowship grants. In fact, The Mind Trust expects ideas to come from around the city, the country, even the world.

They're encouraging local educators to apply, too.

"One of the things we anticipate is a teacher or an administrator who's been saying for years, 'Gosh, if we just did school this way, if we just designed it this way, we could achieve dramatically better results,' and this is going to be their opportunity to launch a new school," Harris said.

Those new, innovative schools won't be magnet schools and IPS leaders say that's important.

No family has to move or bus their child elsewhere. If the school is troubled and targeted for a fellow's innovative curriculum, those kids benefit directly.

"This is really around our neighborhood schools. So you don't have go to a magnet. You don't have to go to a charter school to have a great school," Dr. Ferebee said. "We're going to prove our performance in our neighborhood schools so students can attend schools right where they live."

The Mind Trust is covering the cost of this program through fundraising. The first three innovative schools are expected to be up and running by the 2015-2016 school year.