School management at a long struggling school on the northwest-side will change for a third time in six years. The Indianapolis Public Schools board voted Thursday to partner with start-up charter operator Liberty Grove Schools to run Elder Diggs School 42 this summer.
The vote passed 5-1 with Commissioner Taria Slack opposed. IPS Board President Evan Hawkins was absent from the meeting.
The decision comes after the school board voted not to renew the management contract with School 42’s current operator, Ignite Achievement Academy for multiple concerns, including poor academic performances and low teacher retention. The five-year partnership ends in June.
IPS agreed to make Liberty Grove Schools an innovation charter partner. That would give the operator autonomy within the district and be free from many of the policies and union employment contracts. School 42 is one of nine schools the IPS administration sought to turnaround by removing district staff and bringing in an outside charter manager to run the school.
Morrise Harbour is the Liberty Grove founder. He was formerly principal at Friendship Public Charter Schools’ Chamberlain Campus in Washington, D.C.
Harbour and the leaders at Ignite were all part of local education-reform group The Mind Trust’s program to design new school models for Indianapolis.
Commissioner Slack, whose district includes School 42, wanted IPS to regain oversight of the school and operate it.
“We have a track record of turning over low performing schools right here,” Slack said about district-run schools. “We have the talent. We have a curriculum that has been tracked with data – so my concerns lie there. The program being recommended has less than – in design process – eight months. It has not been piloted in any school.”
Commissioner Susan Collins voted in favor of the partnership but she still had some reservations about the school operator because it is untested.
“We have already failed the school twice,” Collins said. “And I am very concerned. And I hope that Liberty Grove has the heart as well as the determination to work with the families to bring up the trust and the performance achievement for School 42. And that they become [a] success story rather than another failed experiment.”
Parents spoke about the school’s impending transition during the Thursday meeting. Some said they were caught off guard by the district’s initial announcement to stop working with Ignite.
“I remember when I first heard the news about what was happening,” School 42 parent Randall Tichenor said. “I was one of the parents that got notified late into December. Like many other parents, I was left out in the dark. I was completely blindsided by Ignite’s challenges and IPS decisions to end their relationship. I had many questions and I didn't know where I could get the answers. It wasn't until I heard from a community partner that I understood what was happening.”
But parents like Tichenor were still hopeful new leadership could help turnaround School 42.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said Liberty Grove Schools would also face more oversight with quarterly visits and monthly data reviews with district staff.
“We are well aware that this is the second time that we are partnering to operate the school,” Johnson said Tuesday. “And so we want to make sure that we are putting even more formal and structured systems in place to ensure that we are monitoring the progress of the school and keeping in close contact with families about the experience they're having.”
Liberty Grove Schools will begin managing Elder Diggs School 42 July 1. Current students can remain at the school for the 2022-23 academic year or choose another option.
The new partnership comes as the district begins to reassess its facilities. A partially released school facilities report, found Elder Diggs School 42 is one of 12 schools that received a poor facility composite score, which is based on a school’s physical and exterior condition, ability to support learning and technology infrastructure.