September 25, 2015

New Emma Donnan Elementary Attracts Students Outside Of IPS

Emma Donnan Middle School is run by Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based company, but remains part of Indianapolis Public Schools as part of a recent state law. - Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media

Emma Donnan Middle School is run by Charter Schools USA, a Florida-based company, but remains part of Indianapolis Public Schools as part of a recent state law.

Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media

The school, managed by Charter Schools USA, is the first to be created from scratch in IPS under Public Law 1321


Emma Donnan Elementary School is one of five new schools this year in the Indianapolis Public Schools District as the result of a state law passed last year.

The school is part of Emma Donnan Middle, a 7th to 8th grade school, was taken over by the State Board of Education in 2012 after years of academic failure under IPS. The Florida-based Charter Schools USA was then hired by the state to run the school along with two other district high schools.

But it’s been difficult to turn the middle school around. It remains an F on the state’s accountability scale.

So Jon Hage, the company CEO, and IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee used the law to open up a new K-to-6 school in the building and create a campus for students in kindergarten to 8th grade.

The law allows IPS to sign contracts with charter school companies and management groups to operate current schools or use IPS facilities to open new schools. Under the agreement, the schools are considered part of IPS for student enrollment and academics, like ISTEP scores and A-F school grades.

“What has been learned is that it is more about feeder takeover, it is about community involvement, it is about creating that K-12 feeder,” Hage said. “Because these kids were failing well before they came to a failed school. So the fact that we are helping them now in a K-up area really helps integrate the educational model that works earlier and you are going to see those results continue to happen.”

A small dedication ceremony was held today at the southside school at 1202 East Troy Ave.

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The Emma Donnan Elementary  is the only so-called “Innovation Network” school in IPS to start from scratch. Another school under the law is the former Francis Scott Key Elementary School 103 now operated as a Phalen Leadership Academy and renamed PLA @ 103.

Students at the new Emma Donnan elementary fall under the IPS umbrella. Charter Schools USA can use district resources for those students. In return, IPS receives the charter school students' test scores in district averages and state funding support for the charter students would flow through the district.

'A New Page'

Hague said it is too early to know if this “feeder” model can be replicated at other schools in the district. The charter company also manages Howe and Manual high schools as part of state intervention contracts.

About half of the 188 elementary students are new to IPS. The middle school has 349 students. Principal Michael Dunagan said students have left area charter schools and bordering township schools to attend Emma Donnan elementary.

“I think it is potentially a new page that has started to be turned,” Hage said about students outside of IPS choosing to attend the new school. “It is going to take time across a lot of schools to start reattract people back to the IPS system under new partnership models… I hope it really works.”

Next month the IPS Board will discuss making IPS into a "portfolio district" -- that means, expanding the type of autonomous school models in the district. Some of these schools would be run as independent non-profits based on a contract with IPS. 

IPS principals can now apply to change their school into an "innovation network" school and be free from collective bargaining and other district-wide mandates.

Enlace Academy and KIPP Indy, two charter schools, have signed agreements with IPS this year.

Public Law 1321, signed into law last year by Gov. Mike Pence, allows IPS to hire charter companies or independent management teams to run its low-performing schools or open schools in underused and vacant district buildings.

The law was expanded statewide during this past legislative session.

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

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