April 14, 2022

A new Latin and immigrant-inspired charter school is trying to partner with IPS

Monarca Academy executive director Francisco Valdiosera and principal Felicia Sears presented their plans for the school at an IPS board meeting in March. - (IPS/YouTube)

Monarca Academy executive director Francisco Valdiosera and principal Felicia Sears presented their plans for the school at an IPS board meeting in March.

(IPS/YouTube)

A new charter school inspired by Latin and immigrant experiences for middle and high schoolers wants to partner with Indianapolis Public Schools. The district is expected to consider it later this month, following dozens of supporters attending IPS board meetings in previous months.

Monarca Academy executive director Francisco Valdiosera sees the school as a home for first generation college-bound students from all over the city. The Latino population in Marion County has increased from 8.4 percent in 2010 to 10.4 percent in 2020.

“We believe that students should never have to leave the beauty and reality of their lived experiences away from their world of school,” Valdiosera said.

The Indianapolis Mayor’s Office authorized a charter for the school last year. Monarca is able to open the school when it finds a facility. But school leaders want to first see if they can join the IPS network of charter and autonomously managed schools. A partnership with the district could include in-kind services such as district-provided facilities, transportation, food preparation and other support.

The school model

Classes at Monarca Academy will be taught in English, but school leaders want to establish an environment that allows students to think and process material in other languages, as well as visual formats. The school schedule will include additional time on reading and English to support the needs of multilingual learners.

“With all of our Black and Brown communities, we've seen a lot of data that supports the tendency to lower the material that is put in front of students,” said principal Felicia Sears, who previously taught middle school English at George Washington Community High School. “And so keeping that exactly where it needs to be, at the grade level, because that also reflects to students what we believe about them and what we believe for them.”

Teachers will incorporate culturally relevant subjects and methods in the classroom, Sears said. For example, students will see representations of themselves and other cultures based on the authors they read and the types of sports and visual or performing arts the school offers, such as soccer or capoeira.

Valdiosera created the school’s academic model as part of a two-year design fellowship with the influential local education reform group, The Mind Trust.

School enrollment

Monarca Academy hopes to open its doors to 150 sixth graders in the fall, then add an additional grade level each year until they expand to 6th-12th grades. So far Valdiosera said the school only has six students enrolled, and almost all are from neighboring districts.

“We feel that at this point, that shows a lot of trust and faith in us,” said Valdiosera, who has roughly 20 years of education experience as a social studies and English as a Second Language teacher and in administration. “And once we can give them some more solid information about various other things that they're asking about — they're just waiting in the wings for some solidity to come about Monarca Academy. And we feel confident that we’ll meet our enrollment goals.”

Valdiosera, who previously worked at IPS for roughly nine years, said Monarca staff have spoken to hundreds of families about the future school. 

One of the reasons he believes enrollment is currently low is because the school has yet to establish a building or location. Valdiosera would like the school to be located on the far west side, near the International Marketplace.

Does IPS need another innovation charter school?

IPS has struggled to increase enrollment recently. The district is redesigning its budget and enrollment policies as it prepares for an annual $25 million budget deficit by 2027. A primary reason for the shortfall is fewer students attending traditional IPS schools directly run by the district. It’s possible that a partnership with Monarca Academy could further erode enrollment at those schools, and reduce IPS’ state funding.

Jamie VanDeWalle is the IPS chief portfolio officer who oversees partnerships with innovation charter schools, like Monarca Academy.

“One of the things that we always consider when we have an innovation application or we have a potential partner like Monarca is, what can they add to the suite of district offerings that complements what we're doing and doesn't necessarily compete,” VanDeWalle said.

The district could discuss a potential partnership with Monarca Academy this month.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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