What’s next for Indy ‘turnaround academies’?

It seemed like a victory for Indianapolis Public Schools when the Indiana Charter School Board voted Dec. 13 to reject charter applications for three Indianapolis “turnaround academy” schools.

But it’s not over till it’s over. The fate of the schools – Emmerich Manual High School, T.C. Howe School and Emma Donnan Middle School – is still in the hands of the State Board of Education. And the board has already turned a cold shoulder to the idea of returning the schools to IPS.

The State Board of Education will consider what happens next at its Jan. 15 meeting.

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‘Public hearings’ without the public

Indiana law requires charter school authorizers to conduct a public hearing before they give permission for a new school to open. Did the Indiana Charter School Board follow the law when it authorized the Excel Center that will open this fall in Bloomington?

James Betley, executive director of the Charter School Board, said there were two “community meetings” in 2018 in Bloomington, attended by representatives of business and civic groups, including Judy DeMuth, the superintendent of the Monroe County Community School Corp.

He said those meetings were “open to the public,” but I can’t find any evidence that the public was told about them. There was nothing about them in the local newspaper, either before or after the fact. If the “public” wasn’t informed, in what sense were they public hearings?

Excel Centers are adult charter high schools operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, a program of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana. The schools are designed for adults who dropped out of school and want to go back and earn enough credits for a high school diploma. At least 15 Excel Centers have opened since 2010 in Indianapolis, Lafayette, Kokomo, Richmond and other cities. Continue reading

Charter school proposal still about ideology

Last fall the Indiana Charter School Board voted unanimously to reject a charter application from organizers of the proposed Seven Oaks Classical School in Monroe County. Now Seven Oaks is back with another request for the charter. But it’s hard to see what has changed that would lead to a different outcome this time around.

Organizers say the school will offer a “classical” education with heavy emphasis on Latin, character education and “civic virtue.” They hope to open in the fall of 2016 at the former site of Ellettsville Elementary School, which closed 13 years ago.

The Charter School Board cited the Seven Oaks board members’ lack of background in education and finance when they rejected the first proposal last year. Apparently in response, the school added to its board local accountant Fred Prall and former Fort Wayne charter-school official Guy Platter.

Prall may be a good accountant, but he is best known as a conservative political activist. He headed the Monroe County Taxpayers Association, a local government watchdog group active in the 1990s. He was the Republican candidate for mayor of Bloomington in 2003.

At a Charter School Board public hearing on the Seven Oaks proposal Monday, he said nothing about classical education but outlined his vision for a universal voucher system in which money would “follow the child” regardless of where the child’s parents choose to send him or her to school.

Platter, according to his resume, was founding principal of Imagine MASTer Academy, a charter school in Fort Wayne, and regional director of Imagine Schools in Indiana and Ohio. MASTer Academy and its sister school, Imagine School on Broadway, consistently got Ds and Fs from their performance. Continue reading

Charter schools and segregation

The folks who want to open a Waldorf-inspired school in Bloomington are back, this time with a plan that sounds a bit more secular than what they laid out the first time around.

They’ve asked the Indiana Charter School Board to approve a charter for what they’re now calling The Green School. The board will have a public hearing on the proposal Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library. Comments can be emailed until April 8 to charter-applications@icsb.in.gov.

The Green School charter application describes a school that will emphasize environmental sustainability and social justice with an “arts-infused” curriculum on the model of Waldorf schools, created a century ago by Rudolf Steiner. It will be a school “that meets the needs of the whole child: head, hands and heart.” Sort of a new-age 4-H club without the H for health – although that’s in the plan too: There will be crafts with beeswax crayons and natural paints and healthy cafeteria meals from the local co-op.

Initially calling their proposal the Green Meadows School, the organizers applied last year to Ball State University but withdrew that application. They have now dropped many of the explicit references to “spiritual” values and practices that made the first plan sound sectarian. But the Indiana Charter School Board should still look critically at whether a school whose curriculum is “informed” by Steiner can claim to be nonreligious.

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