Board of Education OKs Turnaround Recommendations

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The State Board of Education has approved policy changes and legislative recommendations concerning the handling of so-called turnaround schools, including reducing the length of time failing schools can seek state intervention. The board also wants to create its own unit to deal with interventions, a move Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz says is already part of her office's responsibilities. The board's turnaround committee also recommended Indianapolis Public Schools create a "transformation zone" under which the district will resume management of Arlington High School. The zone would also include Broad Ripple, Washington and John Marshall schools.

December 3, 2014

News Release

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Turnaround school recommendations, legislative agenda discussions and A-F school accountability policy considerations were the lead topics of deliberation at today's State Board of Education (SBOE) regular business meeting.

The SBOE's Committee on School Turnarounds presented their final recommendations, based on the findings of Public Impact, a national consultant on school turnaround efforts. Public Impact interviewed the Department of Education (IDOE), state and district leaders, and external partners to identify successes and challenges at turnaround academies. They also identified promising practices from other states related to state intervention in chronically failing schools and analyzed performance and enrollment data at the state's eight turnaround academies. The overall objective is to lead districts in finding sustainable solutions to assist chronically failing schools.

"One of the flaws of intervening in high schools is that students just didn't begin falling behind at grade 9," said Dan Elsener, District 7 SBOE member and Chair of the School Turnaround Committee. "We need a systemic approach to fix a struggling school district. This does not happen in isolation, it involves an entire school system, disciplined leadership and complete community involvement."

Based on Public Impact's report and findings of the School Turnaround Committee, the SBOE adopted the following policy changes and legislative recommendations by a 9-2 vote. The recommendations will be communicated to the governor and legislature for consideration and include:

-Cultivating partnerships with higher education and talent development organizations

-Expanding the talent pool for educators and administrators to serve in turnaround schools

-Establishing an SBOE Turnaround Unit to manage state intervention activities

-Working with turnaround schools to conduct district-wide assessment of facilities utilization

-Establishing the Transformation Zone as an approved turnaround strategy

-Increasing flexibility to implement a systemic approach for both turnaround school operators and school corporations

-Recommending creation of a school turnaround fund

-Articulating a clear set of transition options and criteria for current and future turnaround academies

Furthermore, the Turnaround Committee recommended a two-tiered intervention system that would enable schools to identify and address problems earlier to avoid further state intervention. Under current statute, the State may intervene after six-consecutive years of failing school accountability grades. A two-tiered approach could provide an option for eligible schools to seek outside assistance to improve the school prior to reaching required state intervention.

The board extended the Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) contract at Indianapolis' Emma Donnan, Manual and Howe schools by two years (through June 2018) and recommended the establishment of clear benchmarks to assess progress.

In the case of Arlington, the Committee recommended the creation of an Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) transformation zone under SBOE oversight with IPS reassuming direct management of the school. This new transformation zone would also include Broad Ripple, Washington and John Marshall schools currently under SBOE intervention. Under the plan, IPS will operate these schools under an MOU with the SBOE. The Board directed IPS to come back to the Board in February with a bold plan and clearly defined expectations to guide the turnaround efforts.

"This is a significant day for IPS," said Gordon Hendry, SOBE at-large member. "This proposal is a significant vote of confidence both at the superintendent and board levels, with the district embracing new reforms to fix the district - in which I have a vested interest as the parent of an IPS first grader."

Public Impact cited the transformation zone model at the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) as a model for intervention by providing its partner with the right type of authority and autonomy needed for district improvement. The Board and the DOE jointly agreed to recommend that EVSC extend its contract with Mass Insight, the district's partner, to continue current turnaround efforts.

"I think this is one of the best options we've found as far as local control and local transformation to improve schools," said Dr. David Freitas, District 2 SBOE member. "Hopefully, this is the start of a new way of looking at the intervention process."

Dr. David Smith, EVSC superintendent, told the board his district partnered with Mass Insight to create a solid framework via strategic planning, which has resulted in double digit growth in most categories of ISTEP scores and a 30 percent increase in the number of A and B schools in two years. Smith credited the system's talented people, adding EVSC has never been more focused or intentional about what matters most - their students.

In the case of Gary Community Schools Corporation (GCSC), the Board approved a motion that GCSC present a district-wide improvement plan at the SBOE's January 7th meeting. GCSC Superintendent Dr. Cheryl L. Pruitt indicated the district was considering a partnership with Edison Learning, currently operating Roosevelt Career Academy. The new partnership will address the unique challenges in the district and identify opportunities for community involvement and financial efficiencies.

"What a difference in the relationship now between Gary and Edison compared to where it was two years ago," said Tony Walker, District 1 SBOE member. "It shows the type of leadership we have in Gary with Edison Learning and Superintendent Pruitt. I've seen the progress at Roosevelt under Edison and I'm very excited about the prospects of both parties partnering to improve the entire school district."

The board also adopted a resolution to seek guidance from the legislature regarding virtual learning for inclement weather days. Supporting the success of several district eLearning programs, members focused their questions on equating virtual learning opportunities with a full instructional day, given the potential challenges for some districts regarding internet access, serving students with special needs, and potential funding inequities.

"We're not against eLearning, but expanding the scope of eLearning to replace snow days is a huge policy shift that deserves legislative clarification," said Brad Oliver, District 6 SBOE member.

In other business, the Board briefly discussed and then approved the Strategic Planning Committee's policy and legislative recommendations for the Indiana General Assembly. They recommended improvements to the teacher evaluation system and pre-k education. They also heard from TNTP, a national consultant, which over the next four months is working closely with the committee to identify areas where Indiana's teacher evaluation statute and regulations can be improved.

Final discussions among the Board included final policy considerations for Indiana's revised A-F school accountability model. The new model will be implemented for the first time during the 2015-16 school year, meaning that grades released in fall of 2016 will reflect the new