Charter authorizer rejects bid from Indianapolis school with rocky academic, attendance history

A person wearing a suit speaks from a podium while others sit in chairs beside him and in the crowd. They are outside in the sun and a red brick building in the background.
The Genius School was previously known as Ignite Achievement Academy and was part of the Indianapolis Public Schools' Innovation Network. On Wednesday, the Genius School lost a bid to have Education One, which is at Trine University, serve as its authorizer. (Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat)

Sign up for Chalkbeat Indiana’s free daily newsletter to keep up with Indianapolis Public Schools, Marion County’s township districts, and statewide education news.

The Genius School in Indianapolis has lost its bid for a charter from a second authorizer, after the Education One board at Trine University rejected its application Wednesday, citing concerns with inflated enrollment targets and financial projections.

The 3-0 vote creates uncertainty about the future of the troubled Genius School on the eastside of Indianapolis. The small school, which is co-located with GEO Next Generation High School, has a charter with the mayor’s Office of Education Innovation that expires at the end of this school year.

The Education One board on Wednesday also voted 3-0 to revoke the charter for Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, citing ongoing struggles with staff turnover, declining enrollment, and academic underperformance. The school is in the second year of a three-year charter extension set to expire in June 2025.

Without a charter, Thea Bowman’s roughly 850 students could be forced to look for new schools in June, when the revocation takes effect. However, the school is seeking approval from Calumet College of St. Joseph, another charter authorizer. In a press release after the vote, Education One’s executive director expressed disappointment that the school has decided to seek approval from another authorizer rather than rectify its deficiencies.

The votes follow a Chalkbeat analysis of Marion County charter schools that found a lack of guardrails in state law to ensure that charter schools and their authorizers are held accountable. State law provides little oversight of schools seeking approval from a new authorizer after facing scrutiny from their existing one.

The Genius School renamed itself after Indianapolis Public Schools removed it from the district’s network of autonomous Innovation schools. In its decision to sever ties with the school, which used to be called Ignite Achievement Academy, the district cited high staff turnover, poor academic results, and low attendance.

The school, which was placed on probationary status by the Office of Education Innovation around January 2022, withdrew from the renewal process with the authorizer earlier this year.

The Genius School’s head of school, Shy-Quon Ely II, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chalkbeat’s analysis also found that roughly one-third of brick-and-mortar or blended-model charter schools in Indianapolis have closed since the passage of the state’s charter school law in 2001.

Become a Chalkbeat sponsor

Education One staff also cited concerns with the school’s ability to implement a multi-faceted model focused on the whole child.

Staff also had concerns with the Genius School’s ability to hit projected enrollment targets. State records show it had an enrollment of 74 students last school year. In its application, the school set a goal of reaching 150 students in 2024-25.

Staff also cited an insufficient timeline for its facility plans, and noted that the proposed budget would put the school in a deficit within its first two years.

Education One Executive Director Lindsay Omlor said that staff shared their feedback with the school.

“I don’t know if they’ll apply to us again in the spring, if they’ll shoot for another authorizer, if they’ll just call it a day,” Omlor said.

Thea Bowman Leadership Academy’s charter revoked

Meanwhile, staff cited ongoing struggles with staff turnover, declining enrollment, and academic underperformance at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy.

This isn’t the first time a charter authorizer has spurned the school. In 2016, Ball State University declined to renew the school’s charter. That same year, the school sought authorization from the Indiana Charter School Board, but that board also declined to sponsor the school. Eventually, Education One authorized the school in 2016.

The school was able to rectify organizational concerns and greatly improve academic performance within its first two years at Trine, Omlor told board members at the meeting. But things have gone downhill since then, she indicated.

She said Education One staff have had “had really strong ongoing concerns related to both academic and organizational performance” over the last three years.

But in a statement, the school argued that the revocation was retaliation for seeking authorization from Calumet College of St. Joseph, which it pursued beginning in March because a “disconnect” had developed between Education One and the school. The school said it notified Education One of intent to change authorizers on Oct. 30.

Become a Chalkbeat sponsor

The concerns cited in Education One’s notice of revocation are present in other urban school districts and said the authorizer has had “little to no in-person contact”, the school argued. “The challenges are real and require real time and real attention.”

Phalen Leadership Academies, which manages the school, referred comment to the school.

This school year alone, staff turnover at Thea Bowman is the highest it’s been for the school at over 50%, Omlor said. Enrollment has also declined from over 1,200 students seven years ago to 850 this year, she said.

The school also underperforms on state tests compared to some similar nearby schools, according to annual performance reviews — most notably at the high school level. It has consistently failed to meet overall academic standards in such annual reviews.

The school has also not set performance goals with Phalen Leadership Academies and has failed to communicate with stakeholders such as Education One, Omlor said at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Today’s difficult decision was made first and foremost with the interests of students, families, and taxpayers in mind,” Omlor said in a statement after the vote. “While we never set out to close a school, it is our obligation to ensure our schools are upholding their duty to provide high quality educational options for kids and communities across the state.”

This article was updated to include a statement from Thea Bowman Leadership Academy.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Lawrence Township schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

The Latest

The Indianapolis charter school on the far eastside recently celebrated its new food lab and launched a culinary club, which hopes to take inspiration from a civil rights story.

One of the high points in the graduation rate data released Friday: the Lansing School District, where the rate has increased dramatically since 2021.

Three new national studies find that teachers are self-censoring at high rates, and that students and teachers are more comfortable talking about race in school than LGBTQ issues.

The “Dignity in Schools” called for the city to put millions toward restorative justice and mental health programs, while diverting money away from school policing.

Los defensores buscan preparar a los adolescentes para el próximo año.

Advocates say a bill to retain third graders could violate the civil rights of 93,000 English learners and conflicts with research on how long it takes to learn a language.