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Indianapolis Chief Says Districtwide Reform Underway

Last December, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit developed an ambitious plan to remake the city's school system, proposing to turn it into a network of "Opportunity Schools" where individual principals would have broad autonomy over staffing, culture, and curriculum. The plan also proposed replacing the current superintendent and elected school board with a board appointed by the mayor.

Monday evening, the Indianapolis Superintendent Eugene White released his response to the plan from The Mind Trust, saying that the 33,000-student district is already a center of innovation and that it plans to create "semi-autonomous schools" that can operate with some independence from the central office. Those schools will be given a two-year trial period, and, if successful, can apply to have their semi-autonomous status extended for five additional years.

The Indianapolis Star has more details of White's presentation.

In the report, the district rejects the implication that it spends wastefully. It also emphasizes that reform already is underway in IPS—specifically noting the district's well-regarded magnet system and its partnerships with Mind Trust-sponsored organizations, such as Teach for America and College Summit, which helps children prepare to apply for college.

"The bottom line is simply this—we are doing better," White said. "Our students are doing better. Our teachers are doing a tremendous job. But it's not magic. It's hard work."

The report goes even further: "IPS already and independently has adopted nearly every recommendation Mind Trust has made for improving schools in Indianapolis," it states.

In a statement, David Harris, the chief executive officer of The Mind Trust, said the superintendent and the nonprofit have "dramatically different visions" for what Indianapolis needs to do to improve. "The Mind Trust believes we must fundamentally change how IPS operates if we are going to transform student results," Harris said.

So which vision will prevail? When the Mind Trust report was first released, the mayor of Indianapolis did not leap at the opportunity to support a plan for mayoral control. But Tony Bennett, the state superintendent of public instruction, indicated he was all for seeing the reform measures adopted not just in Indianapolis, but around Indiana. His office paid for the bulk of The Mind Trust's report.

And in a postscript: White was a finalist for superintendent positions in Mobile, Ala. and Greenville, S.C., but did not get either position. In a statement, he said he wasn't looking for another position. "I'm going to do what needs to be done in [Indianapolis Public Schools.]"

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