A study abroad program for Indianapolis Public Schools students will expand into a full-scale high school and join Arlington Middle School students in the former Arlington Community High School building next year.
The IPS Board of Commissioners discussed the plan for the first time Tuesday and approved it in a 4-2 vote during the same meeting.
Thrival Academy Indy, opened in 2017 as a program for juniors within Arsenal Tech High School. The students took a year of classes and a three-month trip to Thailand at no cost to themselves. It then became a stand-alone innovation school, a school part of the district but run by non-IPS managers, and it remained at Arsenal Tech.
But the school faced financial and logistical issues. Concern grew over whether students could complete new graduation requirements while out of the country and enrolled in Thrival for a single year. Additionally, funding travel for 30 or so students became a stretch after a start-up grant ran out. The school is funded with same the per-student formula other IPS schools receive from the sate.
Earlier this year, the district “paused” Thrival Academy for 2019-20 so its leader, India Hui, could develop a new curriculum and budget plan. The relaunch of the school will relocate it to the Arlington Community High School building on the Eastside.
That high school closed in 2018 amid protest by alumni and Devington neighborhood community members, who wanted to keep a community high school option open on the Eastside. The building now houses Arlington Middle School.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson says critics should not view Thrival as a "new school" opening in the building, but rather a reenvisioning of a model that required students to "jump in and out" of other high schools.
"In that respect, I think it works as a complement to other high schools," she said. "I would not characterize it as a new school fully."
"Folks will say, 'why is this high school going in this space?' But I think, pragmatically, if we want to offer this opportunity to our students, which is unlike anything we have in the district ... [and] utilizing space ... this is a great example of us doing that."
Jamie Vandewalle, IPS chief portfolio officer, says the innovation school status will allow Thrival’s board of directors to fundraise to help cover costs and offer “flexibility” in school scheduling and purchases.
Vandewalle described Arlington as one of the least utilized buildings in the district.
“Slow growing a co-located school there will allow us to make better use of that facility,” she said. “We can imagine where Thrival can grow there without greatly disrupting the work going on there currently.”
When it reopens next summer, Thrival will be a “humanities focused” school with extra math and English instruction for 75 students in 9th grade. Students will take Spanish for three years in preparation for studying in Central America.
The school will add a grade per year and max out at 300 students during the 2023-24 academic year.
Vandewalle says the new grade configuration “is a much better fit with our IPS programs and pathways. We are taking advantage of the natural enrollment point at ninth grade.”
Sophmores will be able to study in Costa Rica for a week or so, and juniors will spend months in the Dominican Republic. Traveling to Central America, Vandewalle says, is more financially sustainable than Southeast Asia.
IPS commissioners Elizabeth Gore and Taria Slack voted against the proposal. Both would rather Thrival was a program, not a stand-alone school.
Slack says she studied abroad and knows the benefits first hand.
“But I only see it as a program right now that should be in every high school, not just a high school.”
Thrival Academy Indy was launched from the The Mind Trust's Innovation School Fellowship program.
Cold Spring Expansion
The IPS Board also approved a grade expansion for Cold Spring School. The K-6th-grade environmental studies school will add 7th and 8th grades over the next two years.
In the past few years, more families have chosen to leave IPS for middle school rather than attend a district school. In 2008, more than 60 percent of rising seventh-graders left IPS.
Board members voted 5-0 to approve the new grades. Commissioner Evan Hawkins recused himself from the vote because he works for Marian University, a main partner for Cold Spring School.