February 24, 2022

IPS may close Joyce Kilmer School 69 after charter manager calls it quits

Since the 2016-17 school year Joyce Kilmer School 69 on the city's northeast side has been operated by Kindezi Academy charter school. - (Elizabeth Gabriel/WFYI)

Since the 2016-17 school year Joyce Kilmer School 69 on the city's northeast side has been operated by Kindezi Academy charter school.

(Elizabeth Gabriel/WFYI)

The academic future of 400 elementary students is in limbo after Indianapolis Public Schools leaders said Thursday night they want to close Joyce Kilmer School 69 this summer. This comes quickly after Kindezi Academy, a charter school who partners with IPS, decided not to renew its contract with the district to run the northeast side school rather than continue on a one-year probationary period due to lagging academic improvements.

This is the second charter school in the IPS district to face closure this year.

“It’s incredibly hard, it’s very sad,” said Kevin Kubacki, executive director of the Neighborhood Charter Network that operates Kindezi. “It's heartbreaking for our students and our staff, and these decisions are not taken lightly. And our heart goes out to our community.”

Early Thursday morning Iccees Strahan ushered her son and two children to the crosswalk by Kindezi, located in the Meadows neighborhood.

When she initially enrolled her kindergartener, Strahan said she was excited to have him attend their neighborhood school so she can easily walk him to the building if needed.

“I was really kind of sad that they're closing,” Strahan said.

She said the only other IPS school within walking distance of her house is KIPP Indy, another chater partner, about a mile away. But instead of staying in the district, she plans to enroll him in an out-of-district charter school, Him By Her Collegiate School for the Arts, that her son previously attended. 

“Since he can't go here, I would rather him go back there,” Strahan said.

The IPS School Board, along with the Indianapolis Mayor's office and local school reform group The Mind Trust, have put their weight behind partnering with charter schools as a way for the district to save failing schools from state intervention and improve struggling schools. But some of these schools managed by the charter partners, also known as innovation schools, have struggled to reach the ambitious targets the district hoped for.

Innovation schools are considered part of IPS by the state, and their enrollment and test scores are counted as district data. The schools set their own schedules and academic curriculum, but their teachers are not covered by the IPS teacher union contract. Innovation schools located within a district facility, such as Kindezi, have received some of the district’s capital referendum funding, and benefit from some in-kind services such as district-provided facilities, transportation and other services.

Operating challenges

The IPS School Board approved a contract with Neighborhood Charter Network in 2016 to restart School 69 as Kindezi Academy due to consecutive F ratings on the state’s A-F accountability scale.

Kindezi currently serves over 400 K-6 students: 75 percent are Black and 76 percent of students receive free or reduced meals — a national indication for calculating childhood poverty. The operator has been praised for much needed efforts toward improving the school's culture and building meaningful relationships with the students and families.

As with any turnaround school, Kindezi poured in resources that would implement a more rigorous curriculum, better social emotional supports and improved professional development training.

“We dedicated a lot of resources towards all of those inputs but at the end of the day, our student outcomes didn't match our inputs,” Kubacki said.

Kindezi started with the goal of using a learning model that combined technology with small group instruction. But Kubacki said the 91-year old IPS school building with an outdated infrastructure never received the updates they expected that would have improved day-to-day learning. 

“There was a number of renovations that were originally planned for the building, even prior to us entering into the innovation agreement,” Kubacki said. “And when IPS pivoted to their high school restructuring, there were a number of schools that didn't get the renovations that were planned. And Kindezi was one of them.”

Without the much needed improvements, Kubacki said they were forced to adjust the learning model school leaders hoped would help turnaround the school.

IPS’ one-year recommendation

Over the years the academic performance of Kindezi’s students has fluctuated. State standardized test results for math have consistently fallen each school year since Kindezi took over. English Language Arts scores have risen in the past two years, but they are still dramatically below the IPS and state performance average.

During the district’s Thursday board meeting, commissioner Diane Arnold said she wants to look at more data so she can understand and think of ways to achieve the board’s goal of improving academic achievement.

“As a commissioner, I’m concerned that many of our schools are not successfully educating our students,” Arnold said. “Too many students are attending low-performing schools.”

Eleven innovation charter school contracts are set to expire June 30, 2022.

IPS began reviewing the contracts of multiple innovation charter schools back in December 2021. The district has since decided to end its partnership with Ignite Achievement Academy, which was also a restart school. So far, the IPS school board approved a five-year contract renewal for five other innovation charter schools — Phalen Leadership Academy at George Fisher School 93, Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School, Edison School of the Arts, Cold Spring and Global Predatory Academy at Riverside School 44.

In December, the district recommended a one-year renewal for Kindezi. If the school chose this option Kindezi would have undergone an evaluation to decide the future of the school for next school year. But Kubacki said the one-year timeframe created too tight of a timeline. 

“Essentially it gave us half of the school year to be able to achieve the results in order to be ready for another renewal conversation the next year,” Kubacki said. “And so that timeline paired with kind of the benchmark goals that were set within it, we didn't feel like that gave us enough time to really achieve the student outcomes that we were looking for.”

What’s next for Kindezi students?

On March 14, the IPS board of commissioners will vote on two things: whether to officially close School 69, and whether to provide Kindezi students with an additional lottery enrollment priority for next school year. If approved, IPS would open additional seats at other schools, with rising kindergarten siblings and current K-5 Kindezi students having the highest-level priority for the second round of the lottery.

Families would be required to rank 10 of the following schools and enroll by Apr. 29 in order to reserve a spot for next school year:

● Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School 15
● SUPER School Frederick Douglass School 19
● William Bell Butler Lab School 60
● Theodore Potter School 74
● Ernie Pyle School 90
● Cold Spring School
● Any of the four Center For Inquiry schools
● Any of the three Montessori schools

Based on historical moving data, the district projects roughly 150 students – 60 kindergarteners and 90 1-6 graders – who are not currently enrolled in Kindezi but live within the school’s boundary, and will also need to choose a new school.

Those students, as well as current students, will be able to choose from nearby neighborhood schools: James Russell Lowell School 51, Sankofa Arlington Woods School 99, Brookside School 54 and KIPP Indy Public Schools.

With roughly three months left until the end of the school year, Kubacki, the district and the city — which authorizes innovation charters through the mayor’s office — are focused on making sure students are able to enroll in another school for next year, as well as help staff find employment since they are employees with the charter school and not the district.

“We are prepared to work with the board and school leadership to ensure students, families, and staff have the support they need to transition for next school year,” said Patrick McAlister, director of the city’sOffice of Education Innovation.

IPS already approved a new policy for their enrollment lottery system in January, which provides enrollment priority for non-terminal grade students who attend an in-boundary IPS school that will close or has a non-renewed innovation charter agreement.

Kindez students missed the first window of the lottery because the school closure was just announced. The second window to apply for a school is open now.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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