IPS board undergoes major change

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School reform advocates, demanding dramatic improvements in Indianapolis Pubic Schools, are looking at three new board members pushing for big changes.

Indianapolis is providing inner city kids, both the best and worst, learning opportunities in Indiana. While the state took over four failing IPS schools, more than 99 percent of the students at its Merle Sidner Academy passed their ISTEP exams.

It's a source of pride and frustration for incoming board member Sam Odle.

"We have to make sure that best practices that's happening in those magnet schools and schools that are achieving, are put in all of our schools. If that means we have to change leadership, change teachers, we have to be willing to do that," Odle said.

The former IU Health CEO brings a wealth of experience, accomplishments and business contacts to IPS.

"It's not about leaders. It's not about teachers. It's about the kids," he said.

Thirty-thousand kids, mostly from low income households, are scattered among 63 schools. Although ISTEP scores and graduation rates are up significantly, they still lag well below state averages.

Ideas to improve schools, include hiring the best educators, giving students more support, getting parents more involved all cost money for a district that's endured funding cuts of nearly $30 million in three years.

Budget cuts cost Caitlin Hannon her job as an IPS teacher, now she's an IPS board member.

"Nobody, including the current board, gets a very good picture of where the money is going," she said.

Asked if it is money being wasted, Hannon said, "I think there are pockets of waste, yes."

The push for change is coming from within and outside the school board. Mayor Greg Ballard and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce are demanding better schools.

"It's important from a business perspective, when it comes to keeping top talent here, when it comes to attracting top talent to our city. So we have a lot at stake in this," said Cara Klaer with the Chamber of Commerce.

IPS is no stranger to change. It's long struggle to improve schools, including choice schools, magnet schools, small schools, alternative schools, and community high schools, as well as numerous other academic programs, have come, stayed or disappeared.

To get significant and lasting improvements, reform advocates say schools will need parents, businesses, and community groups working with them.