Future of Schools

State board rules IPS can manage Arlington, share Donnan

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

Indianapolis Public Schools today gained back a measure of control over two of its former schools that have been run independently after state takeover in 2012.

It’s going too far to say that IPS gets the schools back. The Indiana State Board of Education made clear in its meeting today that it considers Arlington High School and Emma Donnan Middle School still technically separate from the district and under state takeover even while approving the district’s proposals to help run them.

But the district can fairly claim to earned back a measure of control and, after a painful period in which IPS leaders were essentially deemed untrustworthy to run its most troubled schools, the implicit confidence of state board members.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district has earned renewed faith from the state board by getting its financial house in order and raising test scores since he took over in 2013.

“I think it clearly is a sign of confidence,” he said. “There’s also public-facing evidence of progress. You see that in our performance. A third of our school increased their letter grades and eight schools had a two-letter grade increase.”

In the case of Arlington, the school’s new management structure will be virtually equivalent to any other district school. Ferebee and the IPS staff will manage all decisions and regain total control over the building’s operations.

The only differences from other IPS schools are that IPS the district hired a consultant — at the state board’s insistence — to provide advice and support and the state board reserves the right to quickly step in to change the arrangement if it is unhappy with the school’s direction at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Even so, the arrangement is unique among the state’s five state takeover schools. IPS will be the only manager of a school in state takeover that does not have an explicit contract with the state board.

Even so, state board members insisted they retain ultimate authority over Arlington.

“I think sometimes there has been a misperception that we were in and now we’re out,” state board member Dan Elsener said. “We are still, as a board, responsible for the performance of the school but we are changing the operator to the district. We are not washing our hands of this.”

If the state board had fully released Arlington from state takeover, it would have forfeited the authority to change the school’s manager to an outside group unless Arlington again earned six straight years of F grades for low test scores.

Six F grades was the trigger in 2011 that empowered the state board to take over Arlington, Donnan Middle School and Howe and Manual High Schools from IPS under state law for the first time. Roosevelt High School in Gary is also being managed independently under state takeover. Donnan, Howe and Manual continue to be managed independent of IPS by the Florida-based company Charter Schools USA.

But for Donnan, IPS also won a greater role today.

CSUSA has been frustrated with the middle school, which serves grades 7 and 8, asking in the past to add lower grades with the goal of getting kids sooner before they have fallen as far behind as some Donnan students. But the state board ruled Indiana law does not permit changes in the grade configuration for schools in state takeover.

So CSUSA and IPS forged a plan to serve both their goals: the school will be able to add the elementary grades as the company had asked and the school district gets to share oversight.

To make that happen, the two forged a separate contract to jointly manage Donnan and asked the state board to approve two changes to the state takeover plan.

The state board first extended its two-year contract with CSUSA to allow it to manage Donnan’s middle school operation through 2020.

Separately, IPS and CSUSA will make use of a 2013 law, resulted that year from House Bill 1321, which gave the district special flexibility to partner with outside companies to manage its schools. Through that deal, IPS and Donnan can create a separate elementary school within the building. The elementary school will be an IPS school and the district will hire CSUSA to run it also.

The goal, Ferebee said, is for the partnership with CSUSA to continue long term. Eventually he envisions the middle school exiting state takeover and the entire K to 8 school managed by CSUSA but fully under IPS control without the state board playing any role.

“It is our hope that ultimately it would transition to some type of long term relationship between IPS and Charter Schools USA,” Ferebee said.

IPS’s road to regaining control at Arlington and Donnan rolled through a series of twists and turns that began with the sudden decision last summer by Tindley Schools, an Indianapolis-based charter school network, to back out of its contract with the state to manage Arlington.

Tindley officials had asked for a boost in state aid to help run the school and shocked state board members by announcing it would pull out of Arlington at the end of this school year when the board balked at giving Arlington more money.

That sparked talks with Ferebee, who proposed repatriating Arlington to IPS. In December, Ferebee hailed what he thought was the state board’s blessing for Arlington to exit state takeover, only to have the board insist in February it did not plan to release the school entirely.

Separately, IPS’s new flexibility under House Bill 1321 rules led to talks with CSUSA about whether such a partnership could be used to achieve its goal of expanding Donnan to elementary school grades.

Negotiations between the two were laborious, in part because the state board asked for changes in the arrangement.
Ferebee said the IPS school board will be asked to approve the Donnan contract later this month.


Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”