NewsEducation / December 19, 2019

IPS Renews Innovation Pact With Phalen, Delays Enlace Vote

Phalen Leadership Academy restarted  Francis Scott Key School 103 through a partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools in 2015.  - Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Phalen Leadership Academy restarted Francis Scott Key School 103 through a partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools in 2015.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Indianapolis Public Schools granted its first renewal for an innovation network school and delayed a vote on approval for another operator.

Phalen Leadership Academies received unanimous approval to continue partnering with the district for a second five-year term to turnaround Francis Scott Key School 103. The vote comes a month after the district’s first innovation partner was rejected for renewal by the IPS Board of Commissioners.

Since 2015 IPS has sought partnerships with charter operators, education upstarts and others to open new schools, restart long-failing ones and bring established charter schools into the district. The model is intended as a way to offer families more options or turnaround struggling schools. Innovation schools are ultimately overseen by the district and held accountable for their academics and operations.

The agreement provides the operator with a rent-free building and access to district services. In exchange, IPS includes the schools’ academic scores and other metrics for the calculation of its state A-F accountability grade.

Phalen was picked in 2015 by district commissioners to restart the chronically failing School 103. It was a bid to stave off state intervention. Since then, most student performance still remains below the district and state averages.

Yet Jamie VanDeWalle, chief portfolio officer, says a review found academic gains were made, and the enrollment and reading scores have improved at the Far Eastside school.

PLA @ 103 is rated A on the school's A-F accountablity scale. The grade is based on academic growth of students at the school from year-to-year and does not include passage rates of the state math and English test.

The K-6 elementary school, once described as one of the most violent in the city, now has a “warm and calm school culture throughout the building,” VanDeWalle says.

But Taria Slack, District 5 Commissioner, raised concern over the suspension rate increase, from 143 suspensions in 2017-18 to 174 suspensions in 2018-19 academic years. 

The new contract for Phalen provides free transportation and removes a management fee paid by the district to help cover operation costs. A year ago, the fee averaged $24,000 a month. District leaders say the fee was a result of figuring out to how to make its first pact with an outside school operator. Now, the school will now pay an annual $25,000 fee to the district.

Susan Collins, At-Large Commissioner, says during a visit she was impressed with the school and the engagement level of students in the classroom. The school’s 484 students in grades K-6 are 98 percent children of color.

Collins, during a discussion this week about the school, said all of the teachers she saw were white. 

But teachers at the school, actually, are not all white. The classroom teaching staff is 69.5 percent white, 26.5 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic, according to Phalen Academies. Among all staff -- including teachers, administrators, coaches, deans and teaching assistants -- the ethnicity is: 52 percent white, 41 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.

Phalen Leadership Academies operates another IPS innovation school -- PLA @ George Fisher School 93 on the city's far northeast side. 

Superintendent Aleesia Johnson asked to table a vote to renew Enlace Academy’s innovation agreement.

“The administration will delay our request for the board’s approval of Enlace Academy in order to respond to additional requests for information the commissioners have made," Johnson says.

Thursday evenint the district did not provide further comment about the delay.

Enlace Academy opened as a K-3 charter school in 2013 inside an IPS building on Kiel Avenue on the northwest side. Two years later, it became an innovation school.

The school uses a blended learning model, a type of personalized combination of online learning and classroom instruction. This year, a majority of the 569 students in grades K-8 are English language learners.

A district review of Enlace found reading scores for third grades were above the district average. Hispanic students passed both portions of the state tests in math and English, at five times the district average.

Innovation schools are a centerpiece in the district’s school improvement and enrollment growth and retention strategy. In the past five years, a majority of district commissioners sought to partner with charter school operators, rather than oppose them.

During Thursday’s board meeting, four school operators made a pitch to partner with IPS as innovation partners next year. The presenters included Allegiant Preparatory Academy, Indianapolis Classical Schools, the operator of Herron High School, and Hope Academy.

Last month, the board voted not to renew Charter School USA’s contract to operate Emma Donnan Elementary School. The rejection was based on high teacher turnover, falling enrollment and concerns about the school’s management.

This academic year, there are 19 innovation schools in IPS. The only other school district with an innovation school partner is Gary Community Schools Corporation.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included a comment by IPS Board member Susan Collins that stated all teachers at School 103 are white. Actually, only 69.5 percent percent of teachers at the school are white.

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

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