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In the 2015-16 school year, Arlington Woods Elementary participated in a pilot cohort to explore what schools can do with greater autonomy over instructional methods, the school schedule, professional learning, and budget decisions. Indianapolis Public Schools created this pilot group as an early stage of implementing Student-Based Allocation (SBA), which is a weighted student funding system designed to increase equity, transparency, and flexibility. Arlington Woods Elementary worked with ERS to diagnose the school’s most urgent needs, select strategies that address those needs, and create an implementation plan to invest stakeholders and roll out new strategies next year. With this new autonomy, Arlington Woods plans to introduce a social and emotional learning elective for all students and expand collaborative planning time for teachers from 30 minutes every other week to 100 minutes per week.
The following story on Arlington Woods Elementary's "Journey to Autonomy" first appeared on MyIPS.org.
The district’s first cohort of autonomous schools begins in August, giving school leadership the autonomy to address the specific needs of their students, families and staff. Arlington Woods School 99 will place its focus on increased supports for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).
The journey to autonomy began three years ago, when Arlington Woods participated in a precursor to the Innovation Network program to test out the flexibilities offered to school leaders.
“That gave us a little flexibility with hiring staff that we thought would be the best fit for our school,” said Principal Tihesha Guthrie. “It gave us flexibility as far as using our own assessments, it gave us flexibility for our own professional development, scheduling our day differently and using our individualized curriculum and pacing guides.”
In the 2015–2016 school year, principals were introduced to an opportunity to join our district’s pilot cohort for autonomous schools. Leadership teams in autonomous schools have greater flexibility regarding instructional methods, time in the instructional day, content and funding for professional development and fiscal decisions through student-based budget allocation. Staff members in these schools remain district employees, and teachers operate within the collective bargaining agreement.
It was a true team effort to decide on pursuing autonomy. Guthrie examined existing Innovation Network Agreements and researched the flexibilities of autonomous schools in-depth. She shared her findings with the Arlington Woods staff, who decided collectively that autonomy was the best fit for their school community.
“The structure that we decided we needed,” said Guthrie, “we knew that it was going to look different from Project: RESTORE because our students and our families have changed over the last two years. We knew that some of the things we did with Project: RESTORE, we would either have to add to or take away.” Project: RESTORE is an IPS teacher-created school model that focuses on frequent testing and consistent discipline to increase student achievement.
The leadership team drafted a proposal to present to IPS administrators explaining how these additional flexibilities would improve the experience for Arlington Woods students, families and staff. This includes additional support resources for teachers along with a new focus on Social and Emotional Learning. SEL focuses on relationship building, responsible decision-making, social awareness, self-management and self-awareness to create a meaningful and engaging learning environment.
“We realized removing students from class for behavioral concerns was not effective anymore,” Guthrie said. “We’re equipping our teachers and students with skills to deal with social and emotional challenges.”
This year, Arlington Woods will have a dedicated Social and Emotional Learning teacher, which every student will have access to for specialized classes to develop SEL skills. A behavior specialist will facilitate group sessions for students throughout the week and provide training sessions for teachers as well to reinforce SEL skills in the classroom.
“As a leader through this process, I’ve learned a lot about culture and what that looks like at different schools,” said Guthrie. “Now I have the opportunity to build a new culture at Arlington Woods. What I take from this whole experience is that you really have to support teachers. You have to give them the skill set to be rock stars in what they’re doing. It’s about making them successful teachers for their entire career.”
Another support for teachers is the addition of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), where groups of educators meet regularly to collaborate, share their experiences and grow together to improve academic achievement. Teachers will have 50 minutes together four days a week, with 100 minutes set aside for PLCs on the fifth day.
“You’re meeting with your colleagues every week for 100 minutes,” exclaimed Guthrie. “That’s awesome!”
At the end of July, the Arlington Woods team plans to host a back-to-school fair. Students and families will be invited to participate in fun activities while getting to know new members of the staff and learning more about the transition to autonomy.
“I think what families will see is us taking more time to support kids both behaviorally and academically,” said Guthrie. “They will see increased instructional consistency throughout our building. Families will feel more like partners in this work to educate their children.”
After months and months of planning, Guthrie said she’s most excited about seeing the work in action.
“You do all this work behind the scenes and you’re planning, but to see it all roll out is the most exciting part,” Guthrie said. “I’m also excited about getting in our classrooms more frequently to participate in the learning process of our children. Being in those rooms so the kids and teachers see that I’m a part of the work, not just coming in for evaluations. I’ve learned a lot in this journey, including the fact that you need to be more than just an evaluator. You have to get in there and have fun with the kids and balance all of those things. You have to worry about people by day and paperwork by night!”
The planning process for autonomy has connected the Arlington Woods team with wonderful new community partners, but there’s always an opportunity for additional support. If your business or organization is interested in joining the fantastic staff of Arlington Woods to support student success, they would love to have you on board! You can contact the school at 317.226.4299.
We look forward to kicking off an amazing year with the new culture and focus of Arlington Woods when school starts in August!
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