GEO charter network to get a second chance in Indianapolis

The GEO Academies is returning to Indianapolis eight years after the mayor’s office sought to close one of their schools for poor performance — a conflict that eventually pushed the charter operator out of the city.

The Indiana Charter School Board voted 6-2 Friday afternoon to authorize the new school, which hopes to open its doors in 2020.

Indiana Black Expo recruited GEO, an Indianapolis-based network which runs charter schools in Gary and Louisiana. That nonprofit organization invited the school to co-locate at its far eastside headquarters, which will also house a youth performing arts academy. The organization’s leaders say they were drawn to GEO’s success in Gary with a model that allows students to take courses on college campuses while enrolled in high school.

GEO plans to open the high school in 2020-21 with about 150-200 freshman and grow to 600-800 students. It will be located in Indianapolis’ Warren Township school district boundaries.

For over an hour, the board discussed bringing GEO back to Indianapolis, with members raising questions about how well the network’s schools serve students with disabilities, the network’s low passing rates on state tests, and whether GEO offers enough classes in core subjects. But when it came time for a vote, the school easily won approval.

The network has a rocky history in Indianapolis, where it formerly ran two schools. When the mayor’s office said in 2011 it would not renew the charter for one of the campuses based on poor academic results, both campuses found a new authorizer and were eventually taken over by a new manager before closing in 2015.

GEO leaders dispute the assertion that the Indianapolis charter school that faced closure performed poorly. But Dana Teasley, vice president of GEO, also said the school model has evolved in the years since the network last ran an Indianapolis school.

“Since that time, we’ve had a lot of great partners who have recognized that there’s a lot of success happening here,” Teasley said.

The core of the new school’s approach, which is modeled on a campus GEO runs in Gary, allows high schoolers will take dual credit courses at Ivy Tech Community College’s Indianapolis campus alongside traditional college students, earning credits and getting direct exposure to the college environment.

“The opportunity for students, parents and families to be able to have their children pursue post-secondary education, dual credit while they’re in high school to me is great,” Bell said.

During a public hearing on the charter application earlier this year, chancellor Kathy Lee, who leads Ivy Tech in Indianapolis, said high school students who take classes there are expected to do the same work as college students.

“They blend in with our student population. They go to classes alongside others,” she said. “And what they do is prove to themselves that, ‘yes, I can do this.’ ”

The Indiana Charter School Board had an initial hearing on GEO’s Indianapolis charter in May, but the school did not win approval because, although a majority of board members present supported the school, there were not enough votes in favor to meet the four-vote threshold.

Correction: Aug. 31, 2019: A previous version of this story stated that a GEO Academies school lost its charter. In 2011, the mayor’s office did not renew the charter for Fountain Square Academy, which led the school to seek a new charter from Ball State University.