Indiana's education leader is not planning a state takeover of failing schools like her predecessor, and has said she doesn't support that approach.
Instead, Glenda Ritz, who has been in office nearly a year after defeating one-term Republican reformer Tony Bennett, has created a division of outreach to help struggling school districts instead of taking them over.
More than three years ago, Bennett made headlines across the country for his take-no-prisoners approach to school reform. Gary Roosevelt High School, which had several years of consecutive academic failure, was taken over by the state, along with schools in Indianapolis. It's now Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
At that time, IDOE appointed private management companies to operate those schools under Indiana's school accountability law. Those agreements are still in place, but moving forward, Ritz is pushing a different agenda.
The Outreach Division of School Improvement has hired regional coordinators who will partner with support staff at the Indiana Department of Education. Each of the 13 regional outreach coordinators will be based in the nine educational service centers throughout Indiana. The coordinators and IDOE specialists are led by state Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction Teresa Brown.
Local outreach coordinators Linda Randolph and Daniel Bundridge, who represent Region 6 — which includes Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties, are targeting about 50 schools that have D or F grades.
The Outreach Team will study school data and School Improvement Plans and assist with improving schools by building on each school’s strengths. Assistance will be provided to schools based on the priority of needs identified in the School Improvement Model. Focus and Priority Schools — schools with D and F grades in 2012 — will require more support. Community partners will be recruited to provide service, personnel and support.
As a result of the concerns surrounding 2013 ISTEP+ scores, the department has not assigned 2013 school grades. It also has recommended holding off on any more state takeovers until new A-to-F rules are in place. Former Superintendent Bennett had been accused of manipulating grades to benefit an Indianapolis charter school established by a prominent Republican donor; the consultant's report cleared Bennett of any wrongdoing.
A committee is reviewing the grading system, and Ritz developed the outreach division to work with struggling schools.
"We go in and help schools," Randolph said. "We provide resources. We work with schools. We connect them to agencies; perhaps we can provide mentors. We don't want to wait until there are sanctions. Here's where you are and here's how we can help you. We help them to analyze data or find resources in the area. We reach out and provide assistance as soon as possible. It's one of the best ideas I've heard."
Bundridge added, "Our job is to support all schools. Not every school has a data coach to help analyze the data. Sometimes they depend on principals to do that. This allows us to develop a partnership with struggling schools so that we can come and observe and assist them. It starts a dialogue."