IPS regains control of Arlington High School

For the first time since Indiana began taking over failing schools, a school district got one of the schools back.

The Indiana State Board of Education unanimously voted today to put Indianapolis Public Schools back in charge of  Arlington High School, which was one of the the first five schools to face state takeover in 2012.

“I’m pleased,” IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “It’s a historic moment. It’s definitely a milestone in the transformation process for IPS.”

Three other former IPS schools — Howe and Manual high schools and Donnan Middle School — will continue to be run by a Florida company through 2018.

The decisions were helped along by sweeping changes the board approved to the state takeover process. The recommendations from the board’s turnaround committee also extended by two years Charter Schools USA’s contract to continue managing Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual and Howe high schools for two years. They also could make it easier for CSUSA to add more grades and more students at Donnan and Manual.

IPS will resume responsibility for Arlington and is expected to develop a plan to create a “transformation zone,” or a special division to oversee and improve schools’ performance. That plan will include other IPS schools that had been subject to a milder form of state intervention when they were assigned “lead partner” organizations to help them improve: George Washington, John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools. The district is expected to return to the state board in February with a detailed plan for how the transformation zone will work.

“I think this is one of the best options,” state board member David Freitas said. “That you grow within — that you transform your own schools within your own communities.”

Arlington was managed by Tindley Accelerated Schools until the non-profit charter school network complained it could no longer afford to run the school and asked to withdraw from its contract early for the end of this year.

Ferebee, who had presented a plan to merge the school with John Marshall High School in Arlington’s building, said today the merger idea will be reconsidered and a completely new plan drawn up.

“I can’t say today that (merging) is the plan,” he said. “We gave options anticipating we wouldn’t have the authority that we have now. I think we have to go back to the drawing board.”

The idea for a transformation zone was borrowed by the state from Evansville, which built a widely-praised separate oversight structure for one school that was eligible for state takeover and four feeder schools. IPS has done something similar under Ferebee, placing 11 “priority” schools with low test scores under a special monitoring structure. Some of them saw strong test score gains.

“It gives us an opportunity to replicate work we have already been doing,” he said. “Those priority schools that we identified, just focusing on those schools the last six months of last school year we saw tremendous strides in just one year. You can imagine over time the potential to dramatically improve student outcomes. I think we’re on the right track.”

CSUSA CEO John Hage, who had asked for a five-five year extension of its contract to manage Manual, Donnan and Howe, said he was pleased to be awarded two more years. Manual is the only state takeover school that saw its grade improve to a D. The others still are rated an F.

“If you get results, the rest takes care of itself,” Hage said. “Today is a proving point for that. It might not have been a five-year extension, but we still have a year and a half left on our current contract. So we have three and a half years now on the horizon so people aren’t worried if they will have a job.”

The changes the state board is aiming to make to the takeover process should help improve cooperation, he said.

“We want to evolve from this forced, shotgun marriage to one that has actual alignment so that resources will drive the educational model,” Hage said.

CSUSA wants to expand Donnan from a middle school to include kindergarten through eighth grades or put a separate K-6 charter school in empty classrooms at Donnan, but state law doesn’t allow takeover schools to change grade configuration or to place other schools within a takeover building. The state board will ask the legislature to consider changing the law to allow such options in the 2015 session.

“Our whole goal is a K-12 system,” Hage said. “We have been very open about that since day one. Our long term plans include charter schools in other areas.”