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Board denies plan to turn over 3 former IPS schools to new charter operator

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In surprise votes, the Indiana Charter Schools Board decided Friday not to put three former Indianapolis Public Schools facilities under control of a charter school operator based in Nashville, Tenn.

As a result of the votes against the new charter operator, the future of Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School, Emmerich Manual High School and Thomas Carr Howe Community School is left with the Indiana Board of Education to decide.

It’s left parents like Felicia Cox whose son is a student at Howe with an uncertain future.

“I really like Howe. It’s a great school, a family-oriented school,” she said. “I’m really, really concerned about that. My son is a junior right now so now I have to look at where I’m going to send him for his last year of school.”

Cox’s son as well as all the students at the other schools can finish the school year under the current charter.

The votes Friday denied nonprofit ReThink Forward from taking over three former IPS facilities first taken over in 2012 by Charter Schools USA of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Later, they were taken over by Noble Education Initiative (NEI), also out of Fort Lauderdale. The 2012 action occurred after the Indiana Board of Education ruled the facilities were poorly performing academically.

As state control was set to end at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the Indiana Board of Education had encouraged NEI to seek a new charter resulting in the entity forming ReThink Forward.

Kim Preston is the chair of the Indiana Charter Schools Board, which oversees all of the state’s charter schools. She told News 8 the law has a limited time frame for state control and while the Board of Ed had recommended NEI to apply for a new charter, the Charter Schools Board voted down each proposal by a vote of 4 to 3.

“Now the question is, what happens next and I don’t know the answer to that,” Preston said.

Preston was on the losing side for each of the votes but said much of the discussion Friday afternoon focused on enrollment projections that are connected to funding. Other board members weren’t convinced they would be accurate.

“I can’t speak to the others but I personally was surprised by the outcome at Emma Donnan in particular because they had the most, the most easy-to-understand progress,” she said.

Preston added that this process is something that’s brand-new for Indiana because while the Charter Schools Board has examined and approved new charter schools, it has never before looked at what happens when the state control expires, especially if the proposal is rejected.

The administration at Howe declined to make a comment to News 8 Friday night.

Misty Ndiritu, the State Director for Noble Education Initiative, released the following statement after the vote:

Clearly, we are extremely disappointed in the narrow 3-4 vote today.  We will continue to work with the thousands of educational stakeholders who have routinely articulated they want to stay on the current path of success at each school under our leadership and local partnerships.

The schools will continue to operate under NEI through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The Indiana State Board of Education said Friday it will take the next steps in determining the future of the schools, and the issue will be brought up at the board’s Jan. 15 meeting.

IPS said in a statement after the votes that it would look for partnerships with Christel House Academy South and other groups to operate the schools under its Innovation Network model. A goal of the model is to give each school greater flexibility to make decisions based on the specific needs of its students.

The statement also said IPS is confident that its employees will work to bring the schools back into the district.

“Please see our district statement below regarding today’s vote by the Indiana Charter School Board in response to ReThink Forward’s application for charters for Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual and Howe High Schools. 

“We have no further comment at this time.”

“Today’s vote provides a path for long-term growth for students on the city’s south side and a positive, sustained impact for the communities surrounding Emma Donnan, Emmerich Manual, and Thomas Carr Howe.

“IPS is committed to addressing the individual needs of each school, and the return of Emma Donnan, Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe to the district will allow continued expansion of sustainable choice options for all students.

“Our next steps include moving forward with our partnerships with Christel House Academy South and other entities to operate the schools under our Innovation Network Model. We look forward to presenting the Indiana State Board of Education (INSBOE) with our plan to integrate students from all three schools into the IPS family.

“As with the INSBOE, parents and students can feel confident that every teacher, principal and supporting school and district staff member will employ a highly-efficient, seamless transition back into the IPS family of schools.”

Email from Indianapolis Public Schools