The pandemic drastically altered how schools function and what students will learn this year. Indianapolis Public Schools officials say the upheaval is so dramatic they’re unable to follow through with two performance review processes that can lead to the closure or restart of certain schools.
The Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners approved a recommendation Thursday to extend the current five-year agreements for four innovation schools by one additional year. Innovation schools are part of the IPS district and operated by charter organizations and nonprofit school managers. Teachers at these schools are not part of the district’s collective bargaining agreement.
Jamie VanDeWalle, the district’s chief portfolio officer, said this week that the pandemic caused such turbulence to all schools that the district can not properly assess academics, culture and other factors to decide whether a particular innovation school should get a new five-year operating contract or be closed.
“This is neither to indicate that we feel any indication of any leanings to terminate any of these agreements, or automatically renew them,” VanDeWalle said. “It’s the same for our partners. This is a mutual agreement for another five years of partnership which is very meaningful. Because of everything, especially with COVID, the time is not ideal to commit to another five years of something.”
District schools have held few weeks of in-person teaching this year since school buildings were ordered closed by a public health order in March. IPS schools will again close for remote learning starting this weekend until at least mid-January.
With the performance process paused, the operation contracts for the schools will end in summer 2022, instead of this coming summer. The schools are: Global Prep Academy @ Riverside 44; Kindezi Academy @ Joyce Kilmer 69; Cold Spring School; and Phalen Leadership Academy @ George Fisher 93.
VanDeWalle said the hope is that the district can properly review the schools during the next year, if the pandemic subsides or the district establishes a new review method.
“This is giving everyone the time to arrive at some level of conclusion,” she said.
So far, IPS has only declined to renew one innovation contract. Last year the board ended its agreement with Charter Schools USA to run Emma Donnan Elementary School. The school is now managed through another innovation contract and charter operator.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district will also delay its school quality review, a process aimed at assessing the district’s lowest performing schools.
“Not wanting to cultivate disruption and change in the midst of massive disruption and change that has happened across every single school,” Johnson said of the reason behind the delay.
Last year, 11 schools were identified for a review. The evaluation uses test scores, parent surveys, school culture assessments, teacher effectiveness and other measurements to decide if a school should be restated, or even closed.
Of that group, two schools -- School 67 and Louis B. Russell Jr. School 48 -- were eventually recommended for restart early this year. A majority of the school board approved both for restart by nonprofit charter operators. Both now operate as innovation schools.
Innovation schools were a focal point in the November school board election. Four candidates received large sums of financial support by reform groups who want the innovation model to continue.
One current board member and critic of that model, Elizabeth Gore, was ousted by challenger Kenneth Allen.
At Thursday's meeting, Gore said even though she will not be on the board next year, she has concerns about Kindezi Academy.