School Closings

Howe and Manual will stay open three more years under the management of CSUSA

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

Charter Schools USA will maintain control of Howe and Manual High Schools for three more years — a move that means the schools will be spared from imminent closure.

The chronically failing schools were part of Indianapolis Public Schools until they were taken over by the state in 2012. The Indiana State Board of Education hired CSUSA, a for-profit charter manager out of Florida, to turn around the schools. In the years since, they have made middling progress.

The board voted 9-2 to extend the contract with CSUSA to 2019-2020, two years later than it was expected to end. The contract at another takeover school, Emma Donnan Middle School, was already extended until 2020 as part of a plan that created an innovation elementary school on the campus in partnership with IPS.

Board members Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager voted against the contract extension. But some other board members staunchly supported giving CSUSA more time to turn around the schools.

“I think the results are remarkable,” said board member David Freitas. “Why wouldn’t we support remarkable results?”

That was a sentiment echoed by Jon Hage, the CEO of CSUSA, who said “the results have been pretty good over the last five years.”

But the data is not entirely sunny. Last year, students showed improvement on early assessment data the manager shared with the board. Yet, all of the Indianapolis takeover schools managed by CSUSA are getting Fs on the state accountability system. The new elementary school that CSUSA began in partnership with IPS is rated D, but it is also one of the worst performing schools in the district, according to an IPS analysis.

Hage said CSUSA is revamping its approach. That includes establishing an Indiana team to manage the schools and a nonprofit to oversee them. CSUSA is also working with Peggy Hinckley, a former superintendent who is also leading the takeover of Gary schools.

“In hindsight, there’s probably better ways to do turnaround in the future,” Hage said, “but doing nothing would’ve been a failure too.”

State superintendent Jennifer McCormick voted for the contract extension, but she was tepid in her assessment of CSUSA’s progress.

“Are they exactly where we want them to be? No. … They have a long way to go, but at least they are showing an upward movement,” she said. “Their trend data shows improvements.”

The decision to extend the contract for CSUSA means the schools are likely to remain open for at least three years. That contrasts with a plan released by the IPS administration, which recommends closing Howe and Manual if they are returned to the district’s control.

There were no IPS representatives at the meeting of the state board Wednesday, and some board members argued they should delay the vote until hearing directly from the administration. But ultimately, they did not wait for IPS input.

The IPS proposal to close Howe and Manual is part of a broad plan to reconfigure high schools across the district, which the IPS board is expected to vote on in September. Because some of the schools involved are in state intervention, the district will need support from the state board.

The school closing plan is designed to reduce costs in the cash-strapped district, where high schools are less than half full.

That’s a problem also facing the schools managed by CSUSA, which are vastly underutilized, said Hage. But he argued the decision on the future of the schools should not be made yet.

Putting off the decision is costly, however. The schools receive about $1,500-$3,300 per student extra from the state, said McCormick.

“When you look at those additional dollars, you are hoping you are getting your bang for your buck,” she said. “Anytime you are putting millions of dollars behind something, you obviously have your eyes on it.”

charter closure

Two Citizens of the World charter schools will close at the end of this year

Two Brooklyn charter schools that were likely to be turned down for renewal will be shuttered at the end of this school year, after their board voted Thursday night not to seek another term.

The two elementary schools, Citizens of the World Williamsburg and Citizens of the World Crown Heights, are part of a California-based network that got off to a rocky start in New York City in 2013 and has struggled to show signs of academic promise.

It is rare, but not unheard of, for New York’s charter schools to close schools for poor performance. The State University of New York, which oversees 160 schools in New York and authorized Citizens of the World, has seen six schools shuttered since 2004. In some instances, SUNY sends preliminary notice that the school’s chances of renewal are slim, as they did with Citizens of the World, and the schools chose to accept the outcome rather than fight SUNY.

“This is one of the most wrenching decisions that any board will ever need to make,” said Erin Corbett, the interim executive director of Citizens of the World Charter Schools New York, in an emailed statement. “This decision is very painful for all of us and even more painful for the families we serve. We love these schools and all that they stand for.” (These are the only two schools run by Citizens of the World in New York City.)

Charter schools buy into an “autonomy for accountability” bargain where they receive freedom from some district rules, and in exchange, agree to hit academic benchmarks. If they fail to show enough progress, the schools risk closure.

In the end, the board decided the schools’ failure to improve their scores gave them a small chance of securing renewal and chose to focus its energy instead on helping families and teachers find new placements for next year, Corbett said.

Both schools — which are located on Leonard Street in Williamsburg and Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights —  serve grades kindergarten through fifth grade. The network’s website says the curriculum includes learning through projects and “personalized learning,” or instruction specific to each particular students’ understanding.

Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, said that while the schools were underperforming, she appreciated the board’s choice to take a responsible route and not fight SUNY’s recommendation for non-renewal.

“While the school did not achieve the promise that they offered in their application,” Miller-Carello said, the charter school’s board “was very honest with themselves and us about both schools’ inability to fulfill the things that they agreed to when they got their charter.”

The network received a cold welcome in New York City, with a group of parents filing a lawsuit opposing the schools by claiming that there was not enough community support for them. The schools also came under fire for an enrollment strategy that targeted affluent families.

Since then, the schools have struggled with leadership turnover at their regional office and within the schools themselves, said Miller Carello. They are also some of the lowest performing schools authorized by SUNY, she added.

At each school, more than 85 percent of students come from homes considered  in poverty and the vast majority of students are either black or Hispanic. Roughly one in five students passed the math or English state test last year. At the school in Crown Heights, only 12 percent of students passed math. Citywide, about 41 percent of students passed English and 37.8 passed math. (Roughly 40 percent of students statewide passed both the math and English tests.)

They also fall far below the overall charter school average in New York City. Among charter school students citywide, 52 percent pass state math tests and 48 percent pass the English test, according to the New York City Charter School Center.

From the beginning, the neighborhood did not need another school while other schools in the community remained under-enrolled. The school’s finances were an “abomination,” and the leadership was ill-equipped to oversee the schools, said Brooke Parker, a parent in the district who fought the schools from the start.

“We did everything we could because we didn’t need the school,” Parker said. “It was going to be a waste of resources.”  

Charter school advocates say the decision is an example of how charter schools can be forced to pay the price if they are not measuring up for students.

“My guess is that there are probably some parents who deeply disagree with the decision because they feel they don’t have a better option for their child and that is heartbreaking and tragic,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. But, he added, “This is the autonomy for accountability trade off playing out, and this is what happens.”

School Closings

Thousands of Indianapolis high schoolers are applying for school as district goes all magnet

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
High school students across Indianapolis Public Schools are reapplying for school.

Thousands of Indianapolis high schoolers are making a choice this fall that could disrupt friendships, reconfigure sports teams and shape futures: Where to go to high school.

In recent weeks, freshman, sophomores and juniors across Indianapolis Public Schools have begun choosing where they hope to go to school next year as the district closes nearly half of its high schools and pushes teens to choose their campus based on academic focus rather than neighborhood.

The district will close three high schools next fall and open magnet academies with academic and career focuses, such as health science and information technology, at the remaining four campuses.

“We want to ensure that they are choosing a high school because they want to be a part of those academies,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “That will be really important because students will be expected to dive into those academies.”

The administration has pitched the all-choice approach as a way of getting students engaged and interested in high school. But for students, the decision of where to go to school often hinges on more personal factors.

When Brandon Henderson’s family moved to Wayne Township, he was supposed to go to Ben Davis High School, which has many career and technical programs. But Henderson, a sophomore who hopes to become an engineer, said he chose to stay at George Washington High School to be with his girlfriend, Carmella Johnson.

If they have to move to another campus, so be it, said Johnson. “It’s just a school,” she added.

Johnson was not alone in her attitude. In interviews the day after the IPS board voted to create academies, some students raised concerns about the plans while others were supportive, but none seemed overly anxious about the changes.

“It don’t matter, you know. I got a spot here for next year,” said Wade Waites, a junior at George Washington. “Whatever extra activities that they might have, that I can learn something and pick up an extra career, I’m down for it, man. I’m down for it.”

The administration is requiring students in schools that will remain open, as well as students at campuses that will close, to select their top school choices. Nearly all students in magnet programs have completed the process so far and “well above” half of students in neighborhood high schools have as well, said Patrick Herrel, who oversees IPS enrollment.

Current students in magnets can choose to stay in their programs at Crispus Attucks High School, Arsenal Technical High School, and Shortridge High School. Students can also remain in the visual and performing arts and humanities programs, which are moving from Broad Ripple High School to Shortridge.

But students in traditional neighborhood high schools will be required to choose new programs. That includes hundreds of teens enrolled in George Washington and the neighborhood program at Arsenal Tech, as well as students who will be displaced when Northwest and Arlington high schools close. The exception is rising seniors at schools that will remain open, who can choose to stay at their current campuses.

The district will send students new assignments by Nov. 13, said Herrel. That will give students who are not happy with their assignments time to reapply to high schools through Enroll Indy.

“The goal is that everyone gets their first choice, and we are very hopeful that we will be able to achieve that,” Herrel said.

But if there are not enough spots in a program for all the interested students, the district will make assignments by lottery. Students at schools that are closing will get priority. But students won’t have priority to stay at their neighborhood campus, so a sophomore at George Washington, for example, could potentially be forced to move.

Even following the high school closures, IPS will have thousands of extra high school seats. But if any programs prove unexpectedly popular, it’s possible that current students could be displaced.

That was concerning to Jessica Smith, a senior at George Washington, who said that she’s unsure about the career academy plan because when students start high school, many of them don’t know what they want to do after they graduate.

Students who live in the area should be able to stay at the school, she said. “Some kids walk to school, and they don’t like taking the bus.”

The administration considered giving current students priority in the assignment lottery, said Ferebee, but it wasn’t feasible.

“If you give everybody priority,” said Ferebee. “Priority isn’t priority.”