January 8, 2020

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

Howe High School was taken over by the state in 2012. The intervention ends in June 2020. - Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Howe High School was taken over by the state in 2012. The intervention ends in June 2020.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Charter Schools USA says it 'will continue to serve' students at Howe, Manaual and Donnan after charter board rejection


Thomas Carr Howe Community High School will close this summer if state officials approve a proposal from Indianapolis Public Schools to return the Eastside 7-12 grade school to its former district. IPS leaders say they would then take a year to “reimagine” what should happen to the campus, possibly making it into an athletic complex, a hub for wraparound services or even a new school. 

The State Board of Education is set to decide on the future of Howe and two other former IPS schools under state takeover at its Wednesday, Jan. 15 meeting. Nearly 1,700 students are enrolled at the schools.

IPS leaders want the board to reverse a previous decision that allowed a private company operating state takeover schools, since 2012, to apply for charters for each. Instead, IPS wants to take control of its former schools -- Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools, Emma Donnan Middle School -- when state intervention ends this summer.

READ: IPS Proposal For Donnan, Howe, Manual

In 2011 the three schools were approved for takeover after chronic academic failure under IPS. The Florida-based Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) operated the schools under a state contract, to turn them around. In March, the state board said the schools were no longer failing and ordered CSUSA to seek a charter for each and manage them free of intervention when the takeover contract ends in June.

But in a surprise move last month, the Indiana Charter School Board did not grant charters for each school. Board members cited other academic and high staff turnover rates and concern for the potential financial impact on IPS. State A-F grades improved for Manual and Donnan. Howe remained graded F from the takeover's start through the most recent 2018 rating but school leaders says embargoed results will reveal a higher grade.

The charter board's rejection booted the fate of the schools back to the State Board of Education, since it retains oversight. The board’s staff has yet to make public its recommendation for the three schools. Yet last year, a majority of the board voted, at two separate meetings, to let CSUSA seek charters for the schools, despite earlier IPS objections.

Chalkbeat Indiana reported the non-profit board seeking charters for the three schools at CSUSA’s request is now in contact with another charter authorizer. Indiana law allows groups to apply for another charter if an initial application is denied.

'Reimagination' Proposal

The IPS proposal for each school, published Monday by the State Board of Education, provides new details on how the district would “reintegrate” the schools and “treat each with an individualized approach.”

It also offers detailed timelines of when community meetings for each school would be held and when IPS would finalize decisions for each school.

Staff at the three schools would be offered interviews for possible jobs or outreach about jobs within IPS.

Much of the plans for Manual and Donnan, previously announced by IPS, remain unchanged.
Christel House Indianapolis would relocate its K-12 school and adult high school near Garfield Park a few blocks north to the Manual campus. Current Manual students would be able to graduate with a Manual diploma,

Next month IPS will pick an outside operator to run Donnan starting for the 2020-21 school year. Phalen Leadership Academy or the new Adelante Schools are the two possible managers. 

Howe High School would not remain open after the 2019-20 academic year if IPS regain control of it. Around 600 students attend the school now, the highest in four years.

District administrators and the IPS Board of School Commissioners want to use the 2020-21 school year as a planning year for the Howe campus. A “reimagination” committee will consider the potential reuses for the building through community outreach and bring a proposal to the IPS board in October. Partnering with an outside group to open a new school in the Howe building, a so-called innovation school, or another education-related program are some of the possibilities listed on the document. 

Committee members include IPS Board President Michael O’Connor; Blake Johnson, City-County Councilor for District 12; Tim Muhlerin, CEO of Irvington Community Schools; and Andrew Green of the Shepherd Community Center.

“We deeply value the students, families and staff at Thomas Carr Howe and are determined to do what’s best for that community,” IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in a statement. “IPS is in the process of forming the Howe Reuse Committee to reimagine the future of the school, along with potential Innovation partnerships. In the meantime, we will use the next year to strategically plan the best use for the facility — ensuring that we include feedback from all stakeholders.”

Johnson said current Howe students will receive a preference to attend another IPS middle or high school of their choice while the committee builds a financially stable plan for the campus. Among the options, Howe 7th graders would be guaranteed to attend either Harshman Middle School or Longfellow Middle School, or attend their neighborhood 8th grade school.

“We will also do outreach to current staff pending the January 15 decision about opportunities with IPS,” Johnson said.

Charter Schools USA has yet to publicly announce its plan to retain control of the three schools. Since last month, the company and school leaders have referenced plans to acquire charters to run the schools after June.

In a statement Colleen Reynolds, CSUSA spokeswoman, criticized the district for its plan and its management of Arlington Community High School, a takeover school returned to the district in 2015 and closed as a high school in 2018. It was then made into a middle school.

“This comes as no surprise. IPS has a strong and committed focus to closing high schools on the east side of town, evidenced by the recent closure of Arlington High School and the long-held proposal to close TC Howe,” Reynolds said in a statement. “We, however, love and believe in the kids, families and communities on the east side of Indianapolis, which is why we stay dedicated to our commitment to their success and will continue to serve them.”

ReThink Forward Indiana, a new nonprofit board linked to CSUSA, was created to seek the charters for the three takeover schools from the Indiana Charter School Board. State law prevents a for-profit organization, like CSUSA, from obtaining charters directly.

The charter applications state a company called Noble Education Initiative would run the day-to-day operations and academic curriculum of each school.

Two years ago Noble Education Initiative was subcontracted by CSUSA to manage the schools. Noble Education Initiative, or NEI, is a Florida-based nonprofit started by Sherry Hage, the former chief academic officer of CSUSA and wife of CSUSA CEO Jon Hage. Other NEI employees also formerly worked for CSUSA.

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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