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Public feedback meeting 50/50 for proposed charter school in Hamilton County

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A room was packed at the Holiday Inn in Carmel as Hamilton County parents, community members and school district officials came to give their public feedback on the proposed charter school within the district. Valor Classical Academy wants to open their doors August 2023 and serve students K-12. They’re asking Grace College to authorize their charter and as part of Indiana law, the college has to gather data before a charter can open.

Tim Ziebarth, Ed.D. with Grace college gave Valor eight minutes to pitch their proposal, Carmel Clay Schools to pitch their opposition and listened to two minute public feedback from people volunteering to speak.

There was a split between the number of people who were for and against the charter.

RELATED: CARMEL CLAY SCHOOLS want people to weigh in on charter school proposal

Holly Wilson is on the board for the proposed charter and spoke on behalf of the school.

“At Valor, our mission and vision are clear. Valor puts parents in control of their child’s education,” Wilson said.

Valor would be a public charter school. It will not have a religious orientation, so they wouldn’t teach creationism over evolution for example. They’re not just appealing to privileged families. They will require students to wear uniforms. They don’t want the public to view their proposal as being an attack on other Hamilton County schools.

“To those who don’t find our curriculum particularly agreeable, it is this transparency tonight which makes it possible to know how to disagree,” Wilson said.

There were plenty of pamphlets, print outs and a print outs of the proposal for people to collect to help them read up and learn more on the charter.

Katie Browning serves on the board for Carmel Clay Schools and in her speech said Valor wouldn’t have to adhere to abide by the same accountability standards that they do.

Browning said Carmel Clay has 11 elementary schools, three middle schools, one high school serving over 16,000 students. They have a 98% graduation rate, offer over 34 Advanced Placement courses and have 178 athletic state championships according to her. They are one of the least funded districts in the state and having a charter would take away teachers and students for their districts.

“Carmel Clay schools are not failing nor did the community ask for this,” Browning said.

Tim Reithmiller is a father in the district who says he and his wife want to be able to make the choice for his two young girls.

“When did we become a society without choice? When did we decide that a single school board knows what’s right for our children? Superintendent Michael Beresford wants the public to think that by having options, you will negatively impact your community.”

Superintendent Michael Beresford told News 8 ahead of the public meeting that the proposed charter school would divert community members tax dollars to the school.

Margaret Tomaska is another parent in the district who opposes the charter. She says Carmel Clay Schools has been able to create a community that’s good for all.

“I don’t see the rigor that we have at Carmel Clay Schools at Valor. I see something that feels like parental control. I see something that feels political, and it’s really upsetting to me as a parent that we want to work to divide our community instead of coming together and working together to improve the great things we already have at Carmel Clay.”

Tomaska said she also feels the proposal is disingenuous.

“They claim that they’re not religious, but Hillsdale is very religious,” said Tomaska.

Valor is affiliated with Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative curriculum.

The Hillsdale K-12 curriculum provides the framework for charter’s academic program. It emphasizes the core disciplines of math, science, history, and language arts, including phonics, writing, and literature according to their website. Music, visual arts, and foreign languages are also studied.

During her speech, Wilson said a classical education is not responsive to political agendas. It can be viewed rightly as narrow and deep as focus on intellectual rigor, human virtue, moral character, and responsible citizenship.

“We’ve chosen Hillsdale. This causes some confusion a little bit, but we have a lot of information on our website for the Hillsdale connection,” Wilson said.

On the website, their curriculum is explained as returning to the materials, and methods that have traditionally been used to educate young men and women throughout the history of the world.

At Valor, you’ll find teacher-led classrooms, low technology, intensive phonics, traditional mathematics instruction, primary source documents and great books, and the development of the student’s whole person – heart, body, mind, and soul.

Valor is currently suing Carmel Clay Schools for the Orchard Park Elementary School that is no longer being used for student instruction.

Per the $1 law in the state, a school district has to give over empty buildings for charter organizers to buy or lease for just $1, but, Beresford said, the public school district is using the building for storage, and community trainings for other organizations. He says the district has future plans for the building.

According to the attorney general’s website, Carmel Clay Schools are not in violation of the law. The inspections of the buildings by the attorney general’s office came after someone filed a complaint.

Public comment on the new charter can also be filed online until the end of the business day Friday.