Monument Lighthouse charter school will close this spring

The Indianapolis governing board that oversees two Lighthouse charter schools informed parents Thursday that the Monument Lighthouse school will close at year’s end.

The board decided the school, at 4002 Franklin Road, had not made enough progress toward the academic goals it established for itself upon opening in 2007, according to Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth. Another school operated by the board will absorb students from Monument Lighthouse, and the city will also help find spots in other schools for the 607 students who will be displaced by the closure.

Charter schools are operated by arrangements that can be complex, and Lighthouse is no exception. The two Indianapolis schools are sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard, who is responsible for monitoring their progress and can decide to close them if they don’t meet performance targets. Charter schools are directly guided, however, by local boards of citizens. In this case, that local board oversees two schools — Monument Lighthouse and Indianapolis Lighthouse — and picked an out-of-state company to manage it.

That company, Massachusetts-based Lighthouse Academies hires the principal and employs the staff at both schools. The company has a 20-school network in eight states.

The Monument school was due for a decision from Ballard’s charter school office as to whether it would earn a renewal of hits charter to keep operating at the end of the school year. By deciding to close on its own, the school made that decision instead of the mayor.

Kloth said it was a “responsible” decision by the school’s board and that the mayor’s office supported it.

“We have a shared belief it is in the best interest of students in the short term and in the longer term broadly,” Kloth said.

There is enough capacity at the Indianapolis Lighthouse campus at 1780 Sloan Ave. to accommodate any student that wants to transfer. The Lighthouse board is hoping they will.  Kloth said the mayor’s office will facilitate counseling for families to weigh other options, too, including transfers to other charters or traditional public schools.

While the Indianapolis Lighthouse board decided not to seek renewal of the Monument Lighthouse charter it will simultaneously expand its other location and could return to the Franklin Road location eventually. The board’s plan is to seek a future charter to replicate what it sees as a more successful program at the Indianapolis Lighthouse school in 2015, possibly at the Monument school site.

The Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School is on the city’s southside. It has offered to absorb students when its sister school closes.

“We are excited to be undertaking he expansion of what we and the mayor’s office see as a high quality college prep program to meet the needs of the city,” said Samuel Snideman, who chairs the Indianapolis Lighthouse board, in a statement posted on the mayor’s Web site.

Monument Lighthouse, which serves grades K to 11, earned a D on its state report card for low state test scores and limited gains last year. This year’s report card has not yet been issued. The prior two years, the school earned A’s. Monument serves a student body that has 90 percent of students who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 97 percent who are minorities.

Its test scores have made progress, but slowly, and it has never approached the state average of 73 percent passing both English and math on ISTEP. Last year, 47 percent of students passed both parts, a dip from its all-time high of 52 percent the prior year. Its low was 37 percent passing the year the school opened in 2007-08.

That performance isn’t terribly different from its sister school, Indianapolis Lighthouse, which received a C this year and an A the prior year. But Indianapolis Lighthouse, which serves a student body that is 90 percent poor and 75 percent minority, has a more steadily upward trend in test scores, with more than 50 percent passing both parts of ISTEP the past three years.

In its six-year review of the Monument Lighthouse school earlier this year, Ballard’s review team found it met four of eight standards that it was evaluated on. By comparison, Indianapolis Lighthouse me seven of 11 standards in a mayor’s office checkup in 2012. Among the deficiencies cited at Monument Lighthouse by the Mayor’s review was teaching was not consistent with the school’s mission and a school climate that was “not conducive to student and staff success.”

For example the review report states that: “A consistent problem at Monument Lighthouse schools during this school year has been the use of long-term substitute teachers in the classroom, with five classes being taught by substitutes at one point during the school year.”Discipline was also a problem.

“The parents interviewed were quite clear — they did not believe that in the past the school disciplinary system was effective or fair” the review team wrote. “They noted that when they visited their students’ classrooms in the past that here was often ‘no learning happening,’ and that their students were often censured for petty and inconsequential offenses.”

This is the second charter school to announce it will close this school year. Last month the International School, a Columbus charter school, abruptly closed for financial reasons. It is also the second mayor-sponsored charter school to close in the past two years. The Indianapolis Project School closed in 2012 by an order from the mayor’s office because of academic and financial concerns.

Earlier this year, Ball State University declined to renew a charter for one of three Lighthouse schools in Gary and East Chicago because of poor academic performance, prompting the company to reorganize in that part of the state. The three northwest Indiana schools all served grades K to 12 but now have consolidated into two schools. Each site has elementary grades with a consolidated high school campus attached to the Gary school.