Future of Schools

Mayor's charter school stable to grow again next year

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Tindley Renaissance, new mayor-sponsored charter school, opened this fall. (Alan Petersime)

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s ambitious plans to expand his growing charter school portfolio took another step forward last week, as he announced plans to add at least two new schools under his umbrella.

Ballard, who sponsored five new schools that opened this year, expects six already approved schools to open next year. Ballard currently sponsors 31 charter schools, along with monitoring four Indianapolis Public Schools in state takeover, for a total enrollment of about 16,000 students. Next year, he expects to be overseeing 42 schools with about 18,000 students, which would mean the schools Ballard leads would have a greater combined enrollment than 10 of the 11 school districts in the city, second only to Indianapolis Public Schools.

That’s also almost double the 22 schools that were under the mayor’s control in 2012.

Ballard announced the expansion strategy last year when he has partnered with The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based non-profit that advocates for school choice and other education changes, to create a charter school incubator aimed at attracting high-quality charter school operators to come to, or expand in, the city. Ballard has estimated the effort could seed 20 new charter schools over five years.

The new school approved last week will be called Founders Classical Academy and represents the first foray into Indianapolis by Responsive Education Solutions, one of the largest operators of charter schools in Texas. The group is also working toward opening a drop out recovery high school in the city.

The Lewisville, Texas, non-profit operates more than 60 schools in Texas and Arkansas. It has two other “classical” schools rooted in ancient Greek and Roman educational principles that focus on grammar, classic texts, art and study of language. The school opening next fall in Indianapolis will serve 350 students in grades K to 8 and be located in the midtown area.

The Indiana Math & Science Academy West opened on West 38th Street in 2007.

The other move Ballard announced Friday was a change in sponsor, also sometimes called authorizer. The Indiana Science & Math Academy West was approved for a new charter with the mayor’s office and will end its relationship with current sponsor Ball State University.

“Nothing is more important to the strength of our neighborhoods than the quality of our schools,” Ballard said in a statement. “We are pleased that IMSA West will continue to serve students and families on the west side while Founders Classical Academy will provide a new option for families in the Midtown area.”

One of the most successful Indianapolis charter schools, ISMA West, at 4575 W. 38th St., opened in 2007 and has been rated an A three out of the last four years by the state. The school has 600 students in grades K to 12. It is part of the Concept Schools charter network based in Chicago that runs about 20 schools in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

Concept is expanding its operation in Indiana. Its second Indianapolis school, ISMA North, opened 2010 on Keystone Avenue. It earned an A and B the past two years. This fall, Concept opened a third school on Bethel Avenue on Indianapolis’ south side.

Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth said Ballard’s office worked with Ball State to consolidate three ISMA Indianapolis schools under one sponsor.

The Indiana Math & Science Academy North opened on Keystone Avenue in 2010.

“The IMSA West board thought it made sense to have all three schools under one authorizer to streamline oversight and accountability processes,” he said. “Our office has been in close contact with Ball State’s Office of Charter Schools, and they are supportive of the transfer.”

The charter incubator has helped fuel expansion of mayor-sponsored charters, supporting the creation of new schools by three charter networks — Christel House, KIPP and EdPower, which operates the Tindley charter schools.

New mayor-sponsored charter schools that opened this year include:

  • Goodwill Industries’ Excel Centers for high school dropouts added a sixth Indianapolis location at the Lafayette Square Mall.
  • Enlace Academy, which is that it is affiliated with Cathedral High School, is sharing space with an IPS’ Gambold Prep Middle School. It serves grades K to 3 with plans to expand to K to 8 by one grade a year.
  • Tindley Renaissance, an elementary school affiliated with the neighboring Tindley Accelerated School for middle and high school students, opened this fall in the Meadows.
  • Tindley Collegiate, a girls-only middle school.

Coming next year along with Founders Classical Academy will be:

  • Two new Tindley elementary schools on the city’s far eastside.
  • A new KIPP elementary school on the far eastside.
  • Christel House West, an elementary school on the former Central State Hospital campus.
  • Visions Academy, a new elementary school run by the Challenge Foundation on the near westside.


A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:

A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”