January 11, 2020

IPS OKs Contract For Christel House To Run Manual High School But State Ed Board Must Agree

Christel House International CEO Bart Peterson, center, talks at the Indianapolis Public Schools press conference Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 at Central Library, as IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, right, and Phalen Leadership Academy regional director Nicola Fama, left, listen. - Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Christel House International CEO Bart Peterson, center, talks at the Indianapolis Public Schools press conference Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 at Central Library, as IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, right, and Phalen Leadership Academy regional director Nicola Fama, left, listen.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

2 IPS commissioners oppose contract language opening possibility of sharing 2018 tax referendum money with Christel House


Indianapolis Public Schools Board on Saturday approved plans for three former schools under state intervention, in anticipation Indiana officials will agree next week to return the schools to district control.

The Florida-based company Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) lost its bid for the schools’ charters last month and has yet to state its next plan in the wake of the rejection. During this process, IPS leaders quickly tried to position themselves as the best alternative to manage the schools.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson says the State Board of Education should end the company’s involvement this summer and let the district control the schools with new partners. Johnson says plans for community meetings, student enrollment and staff job interviews are ready to roll out.

“Our hope is the State Board of Education is able to see and appreciate the work that Indianapolis Public Schools has done to ensure that we are able to serve our entire family of schools with high-quality partners at this table with us,” Johnson said Saturday at a press conference. “And our hope is that Wednesday, they will make the decision to return all three schools…”

Read More: IPS Would Close TC Howe If State Returns High School To District

The State Board of Education is set to take up the issue at its regular meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15. The board’s policy staff is not issuing a recommendation for the 11-member board to consider. That allows any option to be considered for the future of Thomas Carr Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School.

In 2011 the board approved the three schools for takeover after chronic academic failure under IPS. The state hired CSUSA to operate the schools and turn them around.

At the time of the takeover, former IPS leaders battled with state lawmakers, education officials and CSUSA over the intervention. In recent years, the district has been more collaborative with charter school and other outside operators.

On Saturday the IPS Board voted 5-2 to approve a five-year innovation contract for Christel House Indianapolis to operate Manual High School if the school is returned to the district. The charter operator has been in the same southside neighborhood for 18 years.

Document: Christel House South Innovation Network Charter School Agreement

Innovation schools are managed by outside groups, mostly charter operators. In exchange for the agreement, IPS is credited with the schools’ academic scores and enrollment. Teachers at the schools are not included in the district’s union contract.

The contract allows Christel House to relocate its K-12 school and adult high school near Garfield Park a few blocks north to the Manual campus. A seperate approved agreement allows current Manual students to remain at the school and graduate with a Manual diploma. The school would also retain the Manual name.

Bart Peterson, Christel House International CEO and a former Indianapolis mayor, praised Johnson and the board for partnering to operate Manual. Two years ago the IPS Board voted to close Manual if it were ever returned. That decision was rescinded Saturday.

“All of this is possible because there is a new IPS -- an organization, a district that is collaborative with visionary leadership,” Peterson said.

The Christel House contract has a few provisions other innovation schools do not have.

It includes language that would allow the charter operator to be eligible for money from the district’s 2018 $272 million tax referendum. Currently, innovation schools do not receive operating funds from the referendum, but the IPS Board could vote to change that.

Commissioners Taria Slack, District 5, and At-Large member Elizabeth Gore voted no, over objections to that referendum language, though both support Christel House as a partner to operate Manual.

“This is setting the precedent for other agreements that are coming up for renewal, are going to ask to add it in,” Slack said about the 19 other innovation partnerships.

But Johnson disagreed. Innovation partners operating in district buildings already benefit from the referendum capital funds through safety and infrastructure improvements.

“There is zero we are committing ourselves to with the language today,” Johnson said about the Christel House contract.

The contract also allows Christel House the option to lease or purchase the Manual campus if IPS were to cancel the operating contract. The reasoning, IPS staff said, was the company is leaving their independently-owned facility and this would allow them to have a home even if the partnership ended.

Plans for Emma Donnan and Howe

The IPS Board also voted to close the Eastside Howe High School at the end of the current school year. WFYI recently reported a committee would be formed to consider plans for its reuse that could include an innovation school or community health-focused hub.

Commissioners also agreed by next month it will pick an innovation partner to run Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School for the 2020-21 school year. Phalen Leadership Academy and the new Adelante Schools are the two possible managers.

Nicola Fama, Phalen regional director, says the public discussions around these changes are intended to help ease the concern of Donnan families.

“I think once the communities are able to give their opinions and recognize that we have strong partners, and with a strong district, it is easier to transition,” Fama said.

Phalen Leadership Academies operates two IPS innovation schools -- PLA @ George Fisher School 93 and PLA @ Francis Scott Key School 103, both on the city's far northeast side. Phalen’s contract for School 103 was renewed last month. Phalen has other schools in Indianapolis and Gary.

Adelante Schools is led by Eddie Rangel and Matthew Rooney. Rangel was most recently a principal at Tindley Genesis Academy and Rooney was a principal at a charter high school in New York City. The two are part of a fellowship program -- created by IPS, the city and education reform group The Mind Trust -- to design innovation schools for the district.

“Adelante Schools wants to preserve the historical legacy of Emma Donnan and work in solidarity with the community to ensure it continues to be an anchor for the south side,” Rangel  said.

The IPS Board took these actions Saturday during its winter retreat, a nearly four-hour public meeting held at the Central Library.

The State Board of Education meets 9 a.m. Wednesday, January 15 at the Indiana State Library, History Room 211.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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