Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

IPS’ Lewis Ferebee Makes Case For Transformation Zones

Lewis Ferebee, Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent, is getting closer to what he’s long wanted – more control over chronically failing IPS schools that had fallen under a type of state intervention.

Washington High School in Indianapolis is one of the failing IPS schools that would be part of a proposed "transformation zone." (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana )

Washington High School in Indianapolis is one of the failing IPS schools that would be part of a proposed “transformation zone.” (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana )

Wednesday Ferebee updated a receptive State Board of Education on “transformation zones” – his proposed method of turning around struggling IPS schools.

The district-led plan includes assistance from a company aligned with the district and a focus on teacher training and student needs at particular high schools and the elementary schools that feed into those high schools.

The goal is to prevent the schools from being taken over by the state and run by a company.

The “transformation zone” is step a back from the previous state-mandated model where a district was forced to work with an external partner picked by the state board.

Instead, this gives the district more autonomy and flexibility, Ferebee said.

“I think one element that is really different from this approach is we are truly moving from the concept of take over to transformation. Takeover to me implies something that’s one time and not sustainable,” Ferebee said. “Transformation to me is long lasting, involves building capacity, ensuring you have the structures and systems in place to ensure that you not only make progress for a year or two but something you are able to sustain over time.”

Under the transformation zone model IPS will be helped by the Boston-based Mass Insight Education — a company that has success improving schools in Evansville.

During the meeting Brad Oliver, a state board member, reminded Ferebee that the state was still overseeing these schools, even if the intervention model was changing.

“Let’s make sure lead partner structure does not turn into a highly paid consultant for IPS,” he said.

Under the IPS proposal the district will tap top staff to provide professional development to other teachers and administrators, instead of relying on outside consultants.

Also part of the plan is establishing “feeder systems” of two elementary schools for certain high schools: Students in Schools 48 and 55 will graduate to Northwest Community High School;  Students in Schools 49 and 63 will graduate to George Washington Community High School.

This structure is intended to create academic improvement at the high school level by providing additional academic support to students and keep tracking of their development from school to school.

The estimated cost of the four phase, multi-year plan is estimated at $2.1 million. The State Board of Education will vote on the funding appropriation in February.

Since last May, Ferebee has been trying to convince the state board to give IPS more control over its schools mandated to have lead partners. Lead partners is a lesser form of state intervention than a takeover — when the state board choses a company to run the school.

Last July Ferebee convinced the board to drop a lead partner at Washington Community High School. He also asked that the companies helping lead Broad Ripple and Marshall high schools be removed as well — but the board declined.

Then in September lead partner TNTP told the state board it could no longer work at Broad Ripple and John Marshall because of a difference in philosophy with IPS. The Brooklyn, NY-based company ended its contract.

These changes happened as the State Board of Education began to reexamine turnaround efforts. Last month the board approved recommendations by a subcommittee to overhaul some turnaround models, including the adoption of transformation zone. These changes have been forwarded to the Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly.


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