New ideas

Indy “innovation” school aims to send high schoolers abroad

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Leaders from five proposed schools received fellowships to plan and launch the schools from the Mind Trust today.

Traveling the world to teach and work in Bangladesh and Rwanda was so transformative for Emma Hiza that the Oakland-based educator is determined to find a way to send American teens abroad for school.

That dream is on course to create an unusual new school in Indianapolis that will send every one of its students to another country for five months a year.

Hiza’s Thrival Academy was one of five new “innovation” schools that were awarded fellowships today by the non-profit the Mind Trust, which advocates for educational change. The winning school leaders will receive funding to plan and open new schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools innovation network, which will be part of the district but have charter-like flexibility.

Hiza, who has been working to launch a network of publicly-funded schools that will give teens the chance to travel around the world, plans to open Thrival in Indianapolis as soon as 2018.

Her plan is to open the one-year program to 10th- and 11th-grade students who will prepare for travel, spend five months abroad and complete a capstone project about their experience when they return.

Thrival is also launching a pilot program with 20 students in Oakland next fall.

“We have got to be able to effectively work across cultures and borders,” Hiza said. “This, I think, is the only way that we can really, truly embed those skills in our young people at an early age.”

For affluent families, international travel is a common part of their children’s education — from summer volunteer trips to college study abroad programs. But for low-income families, those experiences are often out of reach.

“Families from wealthier communities, they make it happen,” Hiza said. “It’s one of many ways that our students from underserved communities continue to be left out of our future.”

If the schools in Indianapolis and Oakland are successful, Hiza and her colleagues hope to expand the Thrival network nation-wide. They aim to offer publicly-funded study abroad programs to as many as 50,000 students.

Initially, Hiza expects to spend about $15,000 per student per year. That includes the travel, housing and insurance expenses of sending kids to other countries plus all of the usual teaching and curriculum expenses of typical schools.

Thrival staff are fundraising to make up the difference between the cost of Thrival and the per pupil school funding made available by the state.

If the program can reach a larger group of students, the cost will drop to just under $11,000 per year, Hiza estimates, since the school can save money by, for example, buying plane tickets in bulk.

Thrival is the most surprising idea among the innovation fellowship winners announced by the Mind Trust today. The other awards went largely to educators from established Indianapolis charter schools who are aiming to replicate existing schools or create new schools serving older kids.

Since the Mind Trust started granting fellowships three years ago, the program has attracted increasingly experienced, high quality applicants, said David Harris, chief executive officer of the Mind Trust.

“To build a school from scratch is an enormous undertaking,” Harris said. “We don’t come to any of the work that we do … with a preset idea for what these folks should be proposing.”

The other winning fellows announced today include:

  • Shy-Quon Ely II and Brooke Beavers who helped start Tindley Summit Academy. The pair aim to open an elementary school that incorporates neuroscience, physical health and mental wellness into its curriculum.
  • Tommy Reddicks and Kyle Beauchamp of Paramount School of Excellence. Leaders of the school known for its urban farm, are planning a second elementary school that would share the current school’s focus on science and project-based learning.
  • Earl Martin Phalen, founder of Phalen Leadership Academies, and Nigena Livingston. Phalen currently runs two elementary schools that offer an extended school day and computer-based lessons. The leaders are hoping to open a middle school with a similar program. This is the fourth fellowship that Phalen has won from the Mind Trust.
  • Kelly Herron, principal of Avondale Meadows Academy, and Chrystal Westerhaus-Whorton, a staffer at sister-school Vision Academy at Riverside. The pair plan to start a rigorous college prep middle school, which they say is in high demand from parents.

The latest innovation schools mark a growing partnership among the Mind Trust, the city and IPS. Some of the schools selected will likely be chartered by the mayor’s office, in addition to contracting with the school district. Mayor Joe Hogsett and Superintendent Lewis Ferebee both attended the announcement.

Hogsett said every child in Marion County should have access high quality schools in their neighborhoods.

“This means … that parents don’t have to drive 30 minutes out of their way to get their kids to a high-quality, high-performing school,” Hogsett said. “It means that our kids can walk.”

The IPS school board will review more detailed proposals from the school leaders before approving final contracts for new schools. District leaders are heavily involved in the school selection process, however, so they have already indicated support for the fellowship winners. The board has approved innovation restart contracts with three schools that were incubated with the Mind Trust.

Ferebee highlighted the experience of the winning educators.

“We have proven leaders in this group who have shown that they know how to move the dial on student achievement,” Ferebee said. “We have the opportunity to give them the keys and get out of the way.”

Find your school

How many students apply to Chicago’s most competitive high school programs? Search by school.

PHOTO: Hero Images / Getty Images
CPS released school-by-school results from its new GoCPS high school application system

How many students ranked each public high school program among their top three choices for the 2018-2019 school year? Below, search the first-of-its-kind data, drawn from Chicago Public Schools’ new high school application portal, GoCPS.

The database also shows how many ninth grade seats each program had available, the number of offers each program made, and the number of students that accepted offers at each program.

The district deployed the GoCPS system for the first time in advance of the 2018-2019 school year. The system had students rank up to 20 choices from among 250 programs in 132 high schools. Through the portal, applicants had the choice to apply separately to, and rank, the city’s 11 in-demand, selective enrollment programs. Before the GoCPS system streamlined the high school application process, students lacked a common deadline or a single place to submit applications.

A report released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium of School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that the system is mostly working as intended. The majority of students who used GoCPS ultimately got one of their top three choices. But the study also disclosed problems that the district now faces: There are too many empty seats in high schools. Main findings of the report are here.

School choice

New data pulls back curtain on Chicago’s high school admissions derby

PHOTO: Joshua Lott / Getty Images
Chicago's new high school application system has provided a centralized inventory of school-by-school application data

Before the online portal GoCPS system streamlined the high school choice process, Chicago schools lacked a common deadline or single place portal to submit applications. Some students would receive several acceptances, and others would get none. But a new report shows that the new, one-stop application system is working as intended, with the majority of students ultimately getting one of their top three choices.

But the study, released Thursday by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, also lays bare a major problem with which the city’s public schools must wrangle: There are too many empty seats in high schools.

And it shows that demand varies by income level, with students from low-income neighborhoods casting more applications than students from wealthier ones and applying in greater numbers for the district’s charter high schools. Click here to search our database and see demand by individual school. 

The report leaves unanswered some key questions, too, including how choice impacts neighborhood high schools and whether a streamlined application process means that more students will stick with their choice school until graduation.

Deployed for the first time in advance of the 2018-2019 school year, the GoCPS system let students rank up to 20 choices from among 250 programs in 132 high schools. Separately, applicants can also apply to, and rank, the city’s 11 in-demand selective enrollment programs through the GoCPS portal.

The data paints a never-before-seen picture of supply and demand for seats at various high school programs across Chicago Public Schools. One in five high school options is so popular that there are 10 applicants for every seat, while 8 percent of programs fall short of receiving enough applications, according to the report.    

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the new data presents a full, centralized inventory and will help the district “have the kind of conversations we need to have” with communities. The district is facing pressure from community groups to stop its practice of shuttering under-enrolled schools. Asked about what kind of impact the report might have on that decision-making, Jackson said that “part of my leadership is to make sure that we’re more transparent as a district and that we have a single set of facts on these issues.”

As for declines in student enrollment in Chicago, “that’s no secret,” she said. “I think that sometimes, when when we’re talking about school choice patterns and how parents make decisions, we all make assumptions how those decisions get made,” Jackson said. “This data is going to help make that more clear.”

Beyond selective enrollment high schools, the data spotlights the district’s most sought-after choice programs, including career and technical education programs, arts programs, and schools with the highest ratings: Level 1-plus and Level 1.

“What that says to me is that we’re doing a much better job offering things outside of the selective schools,” said Jackson, who pointed out that 23 percent of students who were offered seats at both selective enrollment and non-selective enrollment schools opted for the latter.

“Those [selective] schools are great options and we believe in them, but we also know that we have high-quality schools that are open enrollment,” she said.

Programs in low demand were more likely to be general education and military programs; programs that base admissions on lotteries with eligibility requirements; and programs located in schools with low ratings.

Other findings:

  • Chicago has far more high school seats than students — a dynamic that’s been clear for years and that the report’s authors stress is interfering with the admissions process. About 20,000 freshman seats remain unfilled across CPS for the upcoming school year. At least 13,000 of those empty seats are a consequence of plummeting enrollment at CPS.
  • It’s still not clear how neighborhood schools, which guarantee admission to students who live within their boundaries, affect demand. About 7,000 students are expected to enroll at their neighborhood high schools. When CPS conducts its 20th day count of enrollment at district schools, more complete details will be available. Lisa Barrow, a senior economist and research advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said one of the things researchers weren’t able to dig into is the demand for neighborhood programs, because students didn’t have to rank their neighborhood schools.
  • The report suggests that the process would be more streamlined if students could rank selective enrollment programs along with other options. “If students received only one offer, there would be less need to adjust the number of offers to hit an ideal program size,” the report says.
  • Students don’t participate in the new process evenly. The report shows that students from low-income neighborhoods were more likely to rank an average of 11.7 programs, while students from the wealthiest neighborhoods ranked an average of 7.3. The authors said it was not clear whether that meant students from wealthier neighborhoods were more willing to fall back on their neighborhood schools.  
  • Students from the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods were also more likely to rank a charter school as their top choice (29 percent), compared to students from the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods (10 percent). The same was true of low academic performers (12 percent), who chose charter schools at a percentage considerably higher than their high-performing peers (12 percent).
  • While the new admissions process folded dozens of school-by-school applications into one system, it didn’t change the fact that schools admit students according to a wide range of criteria. That means the system continues to favor students who can navigate a complicated process – likely ones whose families have the time and language skills to be closely involved.

Barrow, the researcher from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said one final question the report cannot answer is whether better matching students with high schools on the front end increases the chance that they stick around where they enroll as freshmen.

“If indeed they are getting better matches for high schools,” Barrow said, “then I would expect that might show up in lower mobility rates for students, so they are more likely to stay at their school and not transfer out.”