Updated Feb. 5, 2019, to reflect changes to public forum schedule.
Early next year state officials will decide the fate of two Indianapolis high schools poised to exit state control. Among the options, the schools could be shut down or transformed into charter schools.
Whatever the decision, it will cap the state’s turbulent efforts to take over failing schools and assign them to private companies for an academic turnaround. Out of five schools approved for takeover in 2011, only one is no longer rated as failing by the state.
The schools in question -- Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe high schools -- have been managed by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA, or CSUSA, since mid-2012. Both were formerly operated by Indianapolis Public Schools. A third school also under intervention, Emma Donnan Middle School, is on course to become part of the IPS district as an "innovation school" in mid-2020 and remain under CSUSA management.
That’s also when contracts for CSUSA to run Howe and Manual high schools end. In preparation for what comes next to the schools, the state board hired consultant Charlie Schlegel to lead the eight-member School Transition Task Force. In March the task force -- which includes community members and staff from the schools -- will tell the state education board its recommendation on the future of each school. The board is expected to make it decision at the same meeting.
Now Schlegel, a former charter school operator, is holding a series of public meetings through February and reaching out to community groups near each school to gather input. A meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Howe Community High School, 4900 Julian Ave.
State law requires the State Board of Education to chose one of three options for each school -- close the school or merge it with another higher performing school, ask CSUSA to seek a charter with one of the state’s authorizers to keep control of the school, or return the school to the home district, IPS.
“We're going to be equipping community members with kind of a broad brush of available data to help just inform people come in with varying levels of information and just make sure that folks have a general sense of how the schools are doing,” Schlegel says about the meetings. “And so we're going to ask community members, ‘what do you think?’ What's your recommendation? And why what's the basis upon that recommendation?”
Around 150 people attended the task force’s first public forum Oct. 29 at Manual High School. During the nearly two hour meeting, a short video described how and why the intervention took place. Eric Lewis, head of CSUSA’s Indianapolis schools, explained the management and challenges of running the schools
Lewis said the company’s goal is to increase the academic achievements at the school to set them up for “long-term sustainable success.”
Manual and Emma Donnan have shed their F rating. In 2013-14 Manual was rated D and then a C in 2017.
The release of the 2018 state accountability grades marks Emma Donnan's exit of the failure list. The school, like Manual, is now a C.
Howe remains rated F since CSUSA has been the manager.
During the meeting, attendees broke into small groups to discuss the options for the school. A majority of the attends signaled on a survey they prefer Charter Schools USA to keep running Manual and Howe as charter schools.
Closing the schools or returning them to IPS was quickly rejected by many. IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has said if Manual or Howe are returned to IPS, he would likely seek their closure as part of cost-saving measures.
Parent Shelly Breeding’s son currently attends the school and her husband is an alumn.
“No - no way IPS gets it back. They will shut it down and then you have (1,200) students with nowhere to go,” she said about Manual and Howe. “For the most part, I am happy with the education here now at Manual with Charter Schools USA.”
Others at the meeting questioned how one option -- merging Manual and another school -- would work. Perhaps, one parent mused, would it be possible for Purdue Polytechnic High School to move in?
Schlegel, hearing the discussion, said he just didn’t know how a merger would work. The law, he explained, is vague on what a “merger” of a higher performing school would mean as families have the power to send their students to a school of their choice.
“You ask these questions and we'll try to find the answers,” Schlegel told the group before moving on to another.
Schlegel says the School Transition Task Force will review all of the input gathered at the public forums, other meets and submitted online before working out their recommendations.
“We are committed individuals thinking about what's best for these kids and these schools,” Schlegel says. “So Charter Schools USA has expressed, in informal settings, an interest in continuing to operate these schools. That could happen, obviously, through partnerships like Emman Donna or if they choose to pursue a charter, or follow the state board's direction, then it could happen in that fashion.”
Schlegel says the task force will look at the implications of each option, such as what would a charter school look like operating out of the Manual building by CSUSA. Currently, IPS pays the cost of bus transportation for Manual, Howe and Donnan. Once the turnaround contracts end in 2020, IPS will no longer be required to pay for transportation if the schools transition into a charter school status outside district oversight.
Schlegel will bring all the information to the State Board of Education’s March 6, 2019 meeting as part of the recommendation process.
Schlegel is under a $99,500 contract for the year-long project. He also has a $3,000 budget for outreach and four public meetings that include a translator and on-site childcare for children 6 years old and younger.
State law requires the board to take action if a school has earned six consecutive Fs on the state’s A-F accountability scale.
In 2011, for the first time, the State Board of Education voted to take control of five schools: Howe, Manual, Emma Donnan, another former IPS school, Arlington Community High School, and Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary.
Since then, Arlington was returned to IPS in 2015 after a failed turnaround effort by local charter school company Tindley Accelerated Schools. Arlington was eventually closed this summer as part of a high school consolidation plan.
Roosevelt’s operator, EdisonLearning, signed a joint operating agreement with Gary Community Schools in 2017.
- Nov. 13, 6 - 7:30 p.m. at T.C. Howe Community High School, 4900 Julian Ave.
- Jan. 29, 6:30 - 8 p.m. at Brookside Park, 3500 Brookside Pkwy South Drive
- Feb. 6, 6:30 - 8 p.m. at Tube Factory artspace. 1125 Cruft St.
- Feb. 12, 6 - 7:30 p.m. at Emma Donnan Elementary & Middle School, 1202 E Troy Ave.
School Transition Task Force members:
- Jessi Chrisentary, a parent of students at Donnan and Manual
- Jackie Cissell, Charter Schools USA community engagement director
- David Freitas, State Board of Education member
- Karen Lightbourne, Community Health Network east region community collaborations director
- Jessika Osborne, Manual High School ESL coordinator
- Aryn Schounce, Garfield Park resident
- Jamie VanDeWalle, Indianapolis Public School portfolio officer