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School takeover plan rejected 

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The Indiana Board of Education rejected plans presented yesterday by Charter Schools USA regarding the company's turnaround of three underperforming Indianapolis Public Schools starting this July.

The board was caught off guard when CSUSA presented goals and plans of action based on hopes of educating 4th, 5th and 6th graders, which was not a part of the company's original plans to manage Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual and Howe high schools presented in August 2011.

Although receptive to CSUSA's proposal, the board decided not to allow the company to teach the additional grades at this time based on questions of legality an immediate vote would raise.

CSUSA Chief Executive Jonathon Hage told the board that to be most effective, his company should begin educating area students beginning as early as 4th grade rather than at the start of middle or high school.

"We're telling you as the experts on the ground that the significant grade disparity, the gap, coming into middle school is significantly going to reduce the strengthening of turnaround if not addressed," Hage said. " We're not talking about large numbers of students. In this case, it's siblings; it's kids that parents already want there."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett said he philosophically agreed with CSUSA's desire to teach 4th-6th grades in their schools but that a process would have to take place to allow them to do so.

"Where the conundrum, if you will, exists is those affected students," Bennett said. "And this board made a determination last August that the effected students were in grades 9-12."

Matt Voors, the board's general legal council, said the board has the authority to amend the intervention criteria but public hearings would have to come first.

The board conceded that they would be willing to consider adding the additional grades to the schools after they are running smoothly under their new management.

Despite the setback, Hage said CSUSA's commitment to its turnaround efforts would remain unchanged.

"It's going to take some out-side-of-the-box-thinking or you're going to get minimal impact and we're not here for minimal impact," Hage told the board. "We're here for maximum impact, we're here for long-term impact whether we're here after four years and these schools have been turned around or not. Our job is to turn these schools around for your state and have these students performing above their own expectations."

The board was otherwise pleased with CSUSA's proposals for the affected IPS schools, which included new school uniforms, personalized learning plans for each student and increased accountability for teachers.

Hage said his company plans to hire hundreds more staff members in the weeks following up to the July 1 take over of its turnaround schools.

EdPower

Indianapolis based charter school company EdPower also presented plans to the board for Arlington High School, which it will take control of beginning July 1 as well.

EdPower's plan, presented by Chief Executive Marcus Robinson, stressed keeping kids in classrooms and the need to repair the inner workings of AHS.

"We see kids throughout the corridors who are not in classes, who are not being held accountable," Robinson said. "Anytime you see great schools they have great climates, they've got great culture and that's not about socio-economics nor is it about race or where you live."

Robinson said one of the biggest issues facing AHS is the number of students graduating with diplomas that don't allow them to go to college.

He told the board that, under his watch, students would not move up in grade level if they were not fulfilling the standards of their current level.

Conflict with IPS

In addition to their plan's rejection, Hage said CSUSA has had other issues making their takeover of these schools more difficult.

"The process has been, at a minimum, ground warfare," Hage said. "That doesn't mean that everything has been confrontational, it just means that the things that matter like enrollment and access have been very difficult, and because of that, the situation that we're in today is very different than what we started out with when we assessed."

The IPS school board voted this week to appeal the amount of funds the state board plans to give the turnaround agencies to manage their respective institutions.

According to IPS Superintendent Eugene G. White, the formula used by the state to determine funding for the takeover companies is based on old numbers that don't reflect the number of students that will be present during the next school year.

"The State Board of Education wants to use the September 2011 enrollment of these four schools as the basis for funding," White said. "At that time, there were 3,810 students at the schools. Today, only 2,138 students have either selected to attend a turnaround academy in 2012-13 or have defaulted to the turnaround academy because they did not choose to attend either IPS or the turnaround."

Both CSUSA and EdPower acknowledged yesterday that only a portion of their school's students have elected to stay at the schools during the upcoming school year.

CSUSA Vice President of Development, Richard Page said the company's educational plans are based on the $13.9 million the state originally indicated and that plans would have to adjust along with funding changes.

"We're focused on implementing our program and we'll change our budget based on what the state says the funding is," Page said. "We believe it's important that there is adequate funding for the students, to be sure."

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