Future of Schools

As Indianapolis Public Schools looks to close high schools, 2 new innovation high schools win support

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Global Prep is one of the district's growing stable of innovation schools.

Four proposed Indianapolis Public Schools innovation schools got a boost today when their founders were chosen as Mind Trust innovation fellows. The award puts them on the fast track to join the district’s growing innovation network.

The fellows will receive funding to help plan their schools and assistance from the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit that supports innovation schools.

It’s likely that some — if not all — of the leaders will eventually lead IPS innovation schools. Although some innovation school proposals supported by the Mind Trust have fallen through, other fellows have founded innovation schools that offer blended learning and Spanish immersion. IPS staff, including superintendent Lewis Ferebee, and board members helped select the fellows.

The four schools that won support include two high schools that are part of Indianapolis charter networks and two K-8 schools headed by educators from out of state.

Mind Trust founder David Harris told Chalkbeat in March that the nonprofit expects most of the innovation schools it supports to be new iterations of existing charter schools.

“On balance it’s smart to have more replications of successful models than just brand new ideas,” he said.

The proposed innovation high schools are likely to draw criticism because the move comes at the same time that IPS is aiming to close three traditional high schools as a result of low enrollment.

Advocates tout innovation schools as a tool for dramatically improving IPS. They are controversial, however, because they are a hybrid between charter and traditional public schools. IPS gets credit from the state for the test scores and other data from innovation schools, but they are managed by outside nonprofits or charter operators. Because teachers at the schools don’t work directly for the district, they are not part of the IPS union.

The IPS innovation network includes independent charter schools (such as KIPP Indy), successful schools that converted to innovation status (such as Cold Spring) and struggling schools that were restarted (such as Global Prep at School 44).

These are the new fellows:

  •    KIPP Indy high school

Emily Pelino, who heads the KIPP Indy elementary and middle schools on the northeast side, will work with David Spencer of Illinois to found a high school that aims to serve the same community. The school is expected to open in 2019.

  •    Purdue Polytechnic High School

Scott Bess is the founder of Purdue Polytechnic High School, which is expected to open this fall. The school has not yet opened its doors, but as Chalkbeat reported earlier this year, Purdue is already planning for a network. The second campus will be led by Keeanna Warren, and it is expected to open in 2019.

  •    Matchbook Learning

Founded by Sajan George of New York and Amy Swann of Georgia, the school will be the third addition to a network that currently runs schools in Detroit and Newark, N.J. The school would serve K-8 and open in 2018.

  •    pilotED

Jacob Allen and Marie Dandie founded after-school programs in two Chicago neighborhoods. Now the aim is to bring the same approach, which uses a curriculum based on sociology and identity, to a school in Indianapolis. The school would run K-8 and open as early as 2018.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”