January 27, 2015

IPS Approves First Charter School For District, Uses New Law

Tuesday night the Indianapolis Public School Board approved a charter school to open within the district as part of a new state law.

But not everyone supports the plan.

The Phalen Leadership Academy was approved by the board under Public Law 1321 that allows the district to create autonomous schools -- not bound by collective bargaining -- at struggling or underused buildings.

Despite strong support by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and six other board members -- board member Gayle Cosby voted no Tuesday. She cited a lack of proven success at the first Phalen Academy becaused it only opened in 2013 and serves K-3.

“In light of other charter schools facing inadequate academic performance, and are being closed down, I just feel like this is a gamble we really shouldn’t take at this time," she says. "I can’t gamble with our kids education.”

Tuesday was the second time the board had voted whether to approve a new school model as part of a program funded by The Mind Trust -- the Indianapolis-based educational reform group.

Last month, the IPS Board passed on the same concept -- the K-to-6 model created by Earl Martin Phalen, founder of George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academy, and Marlon Llewellyn, an Arlington High School administrator.

But since then the IPS Board has changed. Three new members have joined the board this month after they ousted incumbents in the last election. 

It’s yet to be decided which IPS school will be turned into a Phalen Leadership Academy for the 2015-16 school year. Ferebee said the State Board of Education must next approve an agreement between the district and the school.

Last June, The Mind Trust announced three proposals it chose as potential new IPS school models for its "Innovation School Fellowship." 

The program intends to offer a year fellowship of $100,000 each — as well as $29,000 in benefits and the use of Mind Trust office space — to up to nine teachers in the next few years to basically open new schools intended to turn around nine failing IPS schools.

The IPS school board gets final approval on the curriculm. 

Phalen Academy will have longer days than other IPS schools, include summer classes and use technology.

“We believe if we can engage our parents properly, if we are transparent, if we are personal and really forge building relationships - our parents will come on board along side us to help serve scholars and serve scholars at a high level," Phalen told the board last week during a committee meeting.

The program uses a 2014 law -- known as Public Law 1321 -- that gives IPS the flexibility to hire charter companies, or other management teams, to operate chronically failing schools. It also lets IPS contract teachers initially hired outside the collective bargaining agreement.

The bill was the idea of Ferebee as a means to have available "all options" to improve schools and students' academic success. He faced opposition on the legislation last year from some IPS school board members and the state teachers union.

A bill in the current General Assembly session would expand a simillar version of the law across the state.

The other fellows chosen so far for the Mind Trust program are: Lauren Franklin, the IPS principal who turned around Francis W. Parker Montessori School from an F to an A state accountability grade; and Heather Tsavaris, a former U.S. State Department senior intelligence analyst from Ohio.

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

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