Carpe Diem charter school to add two new Indianapolis locations

A downtown charter school that uses “blended learning,” combining computer-based instruction and traditional classes says it’s ready to expand after two years.

The Indiana Charter School Board today approved the expansion of Arizona-based Carpe Diem to add schools on the city’s Northeast and Northwest sides to operate alongside its downtown campus on Meridian Street.

The charter board also withdrew an offer to BASIS, another Arizona-based for-profit, to open a charter school in Indianapolis after it learned no plans had yet been made to launch the school.

Carpe Diem was approved to open six charter schools back in 2011, but each still must be approved individually by the state board. At full capacity, the new schools would each serve 300 students in grades 6 through 12. The Northeast side location is slated to open first in 2015.

Emily Richardson, who serves as the director of legal affairs and policy for the Indiana Charter School Board, said she believed the organization was performing relatively well on Meridian Street — both academically and financially. Last year about 73 percent of the school’s students passed ISTEP, right on the state average. The school has yet to receive its first letter grade from the state.
The school serves about 175 students in grades 6-12, 60 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. It is still well short of its goal of 300 students, however.

“Overall, things are looking really good at Carpe Diem Meridian,” Richardson said.

Carpe Diem’s Robert Sommers, the network’s chief strategy officer, said the charter network hopes to exceed that performance at the two new Carpe Diem locations.

“We’re in the business of trying to run great schools, so creating more great schools is what we want to accomplish,” Sommers said.

Online-only schools are no longer a novelty, but blended schools say they are a hybrid that can be a better fit for some kids. Carpe Diem allows students to work at their own pace. They meet with teachers and peers for group work and other activities or when they need assistance.

Supporters of the approach say it’s more tailored to student needs than most online programs. But opponents say it suffers from the same down sides as other online programs because students may miss out on engagement and learning they can only get from a teacher.

The school struggled financially during its first year because it fell short of its enrollment expectations, but school officials said it got back on track over this past this school year. The network doesn’t anticipate enrollment to be a problem at the next two sites.

“The low enrollment was the result of an aggressive opening strategy,” according to the charter expansion request. “The proposal before the board for expansion corrects this aggressive opening strategy so a repeat of these problems is not likely.”

Carpe Diem’s expansion will take place within the Indianapolis Public Schools district, but exact locations are unknown. Sommers said a report identified the Northeast and Northwest sides as areas where educational improvement is needed.

“We’re closing in on options,” Sommers said. “We’re reaching out to the farther stretches of the city, (focusing) our schools on serving students of poverty and students with challenging academics.”