Innovative Leadership - Indiana Blog Post #8 SEA

By The Indiana Department of Education Office of Early Learning and Intervention / March 18, 2016

During the journey of school transformation, a frequently asked question is, "What are the roles of the SEA and LEA in the improvement process?"  Indiana has exercised state statutory authority to intervene in failing schools.  Schools in current takeover status have either been assigned an outside management company to provide oversight and management of the school or a Lead Partner to provide focused support in an identified area for improvement. In both situations, the state drives the process. 

The SIG grant is providing opportunities for districts to develop their capacity and invest ownership in school improvement and transformation.  It focuses responsibility of improvement on the district to provide strong support to schools and ensure they do not become eligible for state takeover.   One of our new SIG schools is providing a model for how one district is re-thinking their approach to improvement and was recently highlighted as part of an article on IPS superintendent Lewis Ferebee in Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From 2016.

Francis Scott Key School

photo source: in.chalkbeat.org

Phalen Leadership Academy (PLA) at Francis Scott Key is one of 66 schools within Indianapolis Public School’s (IPS) boundaries.  IPS is the second largest school district in Indiana and is one of three districts in the state that have experienced state takeover of chronically low-performing schools.  Francis Scott Key was identified to become an Innovation Network School, which is authorized by Indiana Public Law 1321 beginning in SY 2015-2016.  “Indianapolis Public Schools identified the Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA) - a nonprofit operator of public schools – through a highly competitive selection process to serve as a lead partner in transforming Francis Scott Key into the state’s first Innovation network School.” With the support of SIG funding, “By the time the grant period is over, these changes will be embedded and become the new norm for our school, for our students and staff, and for our community.”

PLA is a strong example of how a district and outside organization can work together in a meaningful and transformational way.  The outside organization has operational authority for the running the school, including decisions about staff, curriculum, and scheduling.  The district, “… in close collaboration with PLA, will assume ownership of the transformation process by providing critical services, resources, monitoring and oversight of transformation efforts at School #103.” 

Since the summer, PLA has followed its planning year action plan and has hired a strong principal, assistant principal, and dean. When the SIG team visited in November, school leaders shared that first semester kicked off with a focus on focus on building climate and culture, which included focusing on attendance and safety within the building. Two parent advocates were engaging parents to be more involved.    The SIG team also had the chance to meet and talk with teachers during that visit. The group was a mix of new hires and former Francis Scott Key teachers.  They shared with us the rigorous interview process they went through to be hired at PLA at #103. They felt like they were part of something special and had earned their position with the school. They also shared that this school year started with a markedly new passion and vision for learning that was led by the outside partner and the new administrative team.  

When thinking about how to address the roles of both the SEA and LEA in school improvement, we must consider how opportunities are provided to LEAs to lead and own improvement efforts.  How will the SEA support the development of a district to implement its own improvement models?  IPA and PLA are a strong example of how a district is leading a robust transformational education model and how the SEA can support through continued guidance and support through SIG. 

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