IPS taps new operator for Washington Irving School 14, nixes Edison School of the Arts expansion

A brick building with an American flag sits behind a set of stairs. On the left of the stairs are white letters that read “Washington Irving School 14.”
Urban Act Academy previously took over Washington Irving School 14 when it became an Innovation school, but IPS said last year it planned to remove Urban Act from the Innovation Network due to School 14’s poor academic performance. The Near Eastside Innovation School Corporation is now set to take over School 114 after getting approval from IPS commissioners. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Chalkbeat)

Washington Irving School 14 will come under the control of a current Innovation Network school operator in 2023-24 through an agreement that Indianapolis Public Schools commissioners approved on Thursday. 

The unanimous vote to approve the Near Eastside Innovation School Corporation to run the school follows the district’s decision to drop Urban Act Academy — the charter operator that has run the school since 2018-19 — from its Innovation Network. 

Innovation schools are considered a part of IPS, but are given more autonomy over leadership, staffing, and other school operations. Most Innovation schools, but not all, are charter schools. School 14 will become one of the few Innovation schools not run by a charter operator. 

The Near Eastside Innovation School Corporation, or NEISC, has run the Thomas Gregg School 15 as a non-charter Innovation school since 2017-18, experience that district and NEISC staff stressed at an earlier board meeting on Tuesday. 

The school’s previous operator, Urban Act, was tasked with turning the school around as part of the district’s portfolio of “restart” Innovation schools. Last year, IPS said that it planned not to renew Urban Act’s Innovation agreement, citing School 14’s poor academic performance.

The school will receive roughly $420,000 in federal COVID relief funding over roughly 18 months, which will help fund one administrator and one school support specialist for the first year of the agreement. 

School 14 will also receive roughly $5 million in capital improvements if voters approve a $410 million referendum in May. 

School 14 will serve grades K-8 in 2023-24, but will move to K-5 in 2024-25 in a change that mirrors the district’s planned grade configuration in its Rebuilding Stronger reorganization.

Innovation schools director Brian Dickey touted NEISC’s successes at School 15 as a reason for putting it in charge of School 14. 

NEISC, a nonprofit registered to the John Boner Community Center, has increased enrollment at School 15 by about 20% since 2016-17, according to a presentation given to the board Tuesday. 

School 15’s proficiency rate on the state’s ILEARN test across white, Black, and Latino student subgroups were at or above proficiency rates for the district’s underperforming Emerging Schools cohort. English proficiency rates for Black students more than doubled from 2021 to 2022, as did math proficiency rates for Latino students in that time frame, according to the district presentation. 

Brandon House, a former IPS and Wayne Township teacher who later led a charter school network in New Orleans, will head the new School 14. 

The John Boner organization, which has provided integral community support at School 15, plans to expand that network of support to families at School 14.

That includes preserving 22 units of affordable housing for School 14 families, offering an onsite family navigator and community school coordinator to connect families with resources and engagement opportunities, and providing a student support specialist to monitor academic and behavioral interventions. 

House said the partnership will help provide stability for students — a key goal for a school that has grappled with high student transiency rates. 

“Since we have a lot of that stability externally, we want to make sure that we bring that stability within our schools,” he said. 

The school board also voted to terminate its agreement with Edison School of the Arts, which had been tapped by IPS to take over James Whitcomb Riley School 43 as an Innovation school in 2023-24. The move follows backlash against Edison’s former CEO, who was accused of using a racial slur and subsequently fired.

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

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