INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Last week the South Bend Schools announced a major restructuring that included the possible closure and restructuring of some schools in the district. One of the proposals is to transform Marquette Montessori and Muessel Elementary into innovation schools.
But what exactly is an innovation school and will it work?
Just like Muessel Elementary and Marquette Montessori, the Global Prep Academy at Riverside 44 in Indianapolis underperformed, with an F grade for four or more years. But the Global Prep headmistress said becoming an innovation school was the best thing for her students could happen.
In a proposal announced over a week ago, the school society of South Bend, Muessel Elementary and Marquette Montessori is trying to convert it into an innovation zone by autumn 2021.
But what does that mean?
To get some answers, we looked at a district full of innovation schools, Indianapolis Public Schools.
“We became a school of innovation in 2016,” said Mariama Shaheed, founder and principal of the Global Prep Academy at Riverside 44.
It’s a long name … for a reason.
“This is really by design because Riverside 44 was here long before we did, you know, this is Riverside 44, that school in the community where so many African Americans either went to their cousins, for two generations so it’s been around a rich history that this building and this area have, “said Shaheed.
Much like in Marquette Montessori, the parents on the riverbank were not keen on changes.
“The idea that we are somehow tied to a failing school because of their test scores is ridiculous and very, very offensive,” said Kathryn Ball-Boruff, a mother with two children at Marquette.
“Something like the one in South Bend, it was all new,” Shaheed said. “Even if there wasn’t a rich tradition, that’s what people know. And so there was a lot of fear out there in the church and a lot of communication that was just, I mean, all of these misnomeres about who I was, what I did and what would happen. “
What exactly are the differences between a traditional elementary school and an innovation school?
The best way to describe the Indianapolis model is with a school that is independent of the school district still operating in the school district.
The Global Prep Academy at Riverside 44 offers a variety of personnel options.
“The ability to select employees and recruit employees using the strategies we set up is different from the district strategy,” Shaheed said.
They pay teachers differently.
“Our pay scale is not the same as the districts. We also have different bonuses and incentives and scholarship plans and all these things that make our compensation package different from the district,” she said.
And in some cases another day of school.
“We also have autonomy over the length of our school day, the length of our school year, we have an early discharge day, on Thursdays these are all things our community needs,” she said. “If there is a district and all elementary schools have said something, that doesn’t necessarily speak for the needs of the community in which this school is located.”
Because sometimes following a district’s plan can bring a school to a standstill.
“In a way, it can, it can, because there are opportunities that you can just take and move quickly,” she said. “For example, in the first year of our opening, our children were clearly behind academically. And so we were able to introduce tutoring immediately and pay for teacher grants. We didn’t have to wait to get them.” Board approval, see if there is any fund we might draw from. We needed it on a Monday and took it out next week. “
One of the main debates with innovation schools, especially in South Bend with restructuring, has to do with the separation of teachers’ union agreements.
“In our particular case, we went to an existing school and shared our model with the teachers who were already here. And then they had the opportunity to apply,” she said.
With union contracts gone and too unknown for the future, many teachers decided to leave. Leaving Shaheed to hire more staff.
“80, 80 employees,” she said. “Because it was new too, there was a mass exodus and only one teacher applied and stayed. And that teacher left at the end of the first semester. It’s hard work turning the school around. And some people are in and some just aren’t . “
Many teachers feared that a lack of union protection would leave them vulnerable to layoffs, but Shaheed said it was not.
“You know, I’m going to say we don’t have a union here, but one of the things we are very careful about is protecting the rights of teachers and making sure that the teachers’ voices play a role in our school,” she said.
Shaheed believes that leaving teachers is only part of the transition process.
“In order for the culture to change, some adults have to change,” she said.
But what about the students?
“Very few, very few. We had when we got in, I think there were 458 students in the school. By the end of that first year we were 600,” she said.
600 students with improved test results and a new willingness to learn.
“We doubled our knowledge in the first year,” she said. “We went from 58% of the kids who got past iRead in the first year to 70% of the kids. So we saw that kids wanted to be educated and kids wanted to learn and they wanted to excel. And families wanted it too, we had 85% parenting in conferences the first year so you know people often say, oh, the parents don’t care, or they don’t want to be a part of it, they did i just wanted to be a part of it just didn’t know where to plug them in. “
Shaheed looks back fondly on the past 4 years of school and believes this project has been a success.
“Every year our attendance has increased and every year the number of enrollments has increased. So what we see is that while parents don’t say it’s all about innovation, they say they love their school,” she said . “We grow up children and they get better because of the things we do.
Shaheed said they moved from grade F to grade A in the first two years the school transitioned to an innovation school. They were also in the Indianapolis Public Schools Top Six Schools for Growing Children.
During this time, if you have any questions about South Bend Schools’ proposals, innovation schools, or any other topic related to the school process, contact us! [email protected]