April 1, 2016

Public Hearings Set For Six Indianapolis Schools Under State Intervention

Thomas Carr Howe Community High School - Charter Schools USA

Thomas Carr Howe Community High School

Charter Schools USA

Charter Schools USA considering plan to make Howe High School into K-12 building


INDIANAPOLIS -- Public hearings will be held April 6 and 13 about the future of six Indianapolis public schools under state intervention.

But for most of the schools, the next steps seem to already be in place.

In the past two years, the State Board of Education has shifted its stance away from takeover of schools and focused more on allocating extra funds for individual districts to manage their own struggling schools by increasing supports in the classroom and training for teachers and staff.

The hearings are required by Indiana law when schools are in a fifth year of turnaround efforts by the board. State education officials and school staff will discuss each school at the hearing. At a future meeting, the board will decide whether to keep the schools in takeover, return them to their home district, transform them into charter schools or other options.

During a hearing last month in Gary, the charter company hired to run Roosevelt High School proposed a plan to collaborate with Gary Community School Corp. on managing the school. The plan drew broad community support.

This will be the first time public input has been sought on these Indianapolis schools since hostile debates in 2011 when the board voted to let private companies manage four of the schools and put put two on a less-severe form of oversight. The state took action because the schools had been rated F for five consecutive years.

But there isn’t expected to be much since nearly all the school’s’  immediate future have already been approved.

Decisions Already Made

The Florida-based Charter Schools USA was granted contract extensions in late 2014 to continue managing three former Indianapolis Public Schools. That decision basically guarantees the company will have control of Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe high schools through 2018 and Emma Donnan Middle School through 2020.

Arlington Community High School was managed for three years by Tindley Accelerated Schools. But after a funding dispute between Tindley and the board in 2014, the school was returned to IPS and reopened by the district this school year.

Broad Ripple and George Washington Community high schools were ordered in to work with a “lead partner,” basically an outside company, to make improvements at the school. Broad Ripple has been rated a B each year since 2012.

George Washington has struggled with academics and student culture. The school has been rated a D the past three years.

All three high schools school are part of “transformation zones" -- IPS leaders’ new plan to improve schools. That’s a region-based grouping of elementary and secondary schools that receive extra help from the district and the Massachusetts-based company Mass Insight, who is credited with helping Evansville schools turnaround its failing schools and avoid state takeover. The state board allocated funding to support IPS’s plan.

Charter Schools USA Eyes Howe As K-12 Possibility

And while many expect the status of these six schools to remain unchanged, Charter Schools USA CEO Jon Hage warned State Board of Education members last month that ongoing reductions in School Improvement Grants, known as SIG, could impact student learning.

The cost of running Howe High School is around $1 million dollars for heat, cooling and electricity, he said, and the cost will soon cut into the classroom.

“We are not trying to play any kind of game other than give them the reality of where we are financially,” Hage said. “And those in charge have to decide, is it worth the funding to get the results that they want for students.”

The company received about $400,000 less for 2015-16 compared to last school year in total of the three schools. SIG money comes from the federal government but the State Board of Education decides how the money is divided among schools.

In 2014 Hage joined Tindley Accelerated Schools in asking the state board for an increase in the funding. But the board declined. That lead to Tindley ending its contract to run Arlington High School.

A possibility, Hage said, to lower costs and create a stronger school is a transform of the Northeastside Howe High School into a K-12 building. He says the building at 4900 Julian Avenue is large enough to create different entrances and to keep older and younger students separated.

“There is no reason that Howe could not serve elementary as well as middle and high school students successful and safety and drive community benefits back to parents and kids,” Hage said. “It is something that should at least be discussed and fully thoughtfull based on the data. And then a decision should be made whether yes or no.”

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said Hage has told him about the K-12 concept.

“We want to get a better understanding of what the logistics would be for a K-12 campus, how we would ensure safety and those type of things,” he said. “But ultimately if the state board of education think it's in the best interest of the school to provide them that flexibility, of course that is their decision. Whether we would partner with Howe -- that remains to be determined.”

Ferebee also said he was hopefully the state board would continue to allow IPS to manage the changes at Arlington, Broad Ripple and George Washington.

“My goal is to eventually from some point, move away from the takeover scenario as a whole and continue to have a very diverse portfolio of schools that could include CSUSA in the future,” Ferebee said about the status of the three former IPS schools. “But that is their hands.”

The Hearings

  • Wednesday, April 6 for Emmerich Manual High School, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School and Emma Donnan Middle School, 6 p.m. Manual High School, 2405 Madison Avenue
  • Wednesday, April 13 for  Broad Ripple, George Washington Community and Arlington high schools, 6 p.m. at Arsenal Technical High School, 1500 E. Michigan St.

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

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