October 30, 2017

State Board Member Byron Ernest Resigns As Virtual Charter School Leader

Byron Ernest resigned as Hoosier Academies head of schools. Ernest is also a member of the Indiana State Board of Education. - Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media

Byron Ernest resigned as Hoosier Academies head of schools. Ernest is also a member of the Indiana State Board of Education.

Eric Weddle/WFYI Public Media

An Indiana Board of Education member has resigned as leader of the beleaguered Hoosier Academies charter school network amid state sanctions due to years of failing academics.

Byron Ernest led Hoosier Academies Virtual School and two other related schools in the Indianapolis-based network since 2014. He did not respond to a request for comment.

John Marske, Hoosier Academies board president, says an interim leader has been named and the schools will continue to operate even as the virtual school prepares to shut down in June.

“It was a surprise to the board,” he says in an email to WFYI News about Ernest’s resignation last week. “The board fully supported Dr. Ernest and we were quite disappointed upon hearing of his resignation.”

Ernest was hired in 2014 by Virginia-based K12 Inc. — the country’s largest operator of for-profit charter schools — to turn around the failing Hoosier Academies. At the time, Ernest was principal of Emmerich Manual, a long-failing high school operating under a state takeover plan.

Ernest resigned from his contract with K12, Marske says, because he was not hired by the Hoosier Academies Board but rather the company. The Hoosier Academies Board hired K12 to manage the schools.

Marske says the school board and K12, will jointly begin looking for a permanent head of schools.

Rachel Goodwin, Senior Director of Academics for K12’s School Development team, will be the interim school leader. In addition to Hoosier Academies Virtual School, she will oversee two-blended learning programs, Hoosier Academies Indianapolis and Insight School of Indiana. Marske says he expects Ernest to help Goodwin transition into the job. 

Ernest steps down as the charter school network faces many challenges.

Hoosier Academies Virtual School has earned seven consecutive Fs on the state’s accountability scale.

The school escaped closure by the State Board of Education during a meeting where State Schools Chief Jennifer McCormick criticized the school for its high expulsion rate and failure to fully align the school curriculum to Indiana’s academic standards.

Instead of closure, the board voted to cap enrollment at the school’s then-current level, around 2,850 students. That was more than 400 students less than start at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Ernest recused himself from the vote.

The cap caused millions of dollars in lost state funding to the school.

But then in September, Hoosier Academies School Board voted to not seek renewal of their charter for the Hoosier Academies Virtual School, a decision that will cause the school to close in June. When Hoosier Academies Virtual opened in 2009 it was Indiana’s first online school.

Ernest, a former Indiana teacher of the year, was appointed to the State Board of Education by House Speaker Brian Bosma in 2015.

Ernest is also a board member of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

This story will be updated.

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

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