Indianapolis Public Schools officials let students at the four buildings facing state-led takeovers choose where they want to go to school next year, so long as they made a decision by February.
By the time decision day came, almost 1,400 of them decided to transfer to another IPS school. Nearly 1,800 others will stay put as new management moves in.
Some teachers at one takeover school, however, say their students didn’t have enough information to make a good decision.
—Rich Haton, T.C. Howe High School special education teacher
Teachers at T.C. Howe High School say students want to know about courses and teachers before enrolling at a school. But officials at Charter Schools USA say they’re only getting the enrollment information they need to answer those questions now, after the students’ enrollment deadline has passed.
The turnaround companies have laid out some of their plans for the takeover schools. For example, Charter Schools USA — which will take over Howe, Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual High School — held public meetings to announce their curricular and extracurricular offerings at each of the school.
But T.C. Howe teachers say they don’t know what to tell students, who’ve approach them throughout the year asking questions like ‘What classes will the school have next year?’ or ‘Will you be here next year?’ The teachers say they’re not getting enough details from Charter Schools USA. Without those details, students are forced to make a blind choice.
“What we hear is that Charter Schools USA is saying, ‘We expect to have — but,’” says Elizabeth Traficante, a T.C. Howe special education teacher. “We’re trying to be as honest with the students as we can and say ‘We think that they will have…’ but we’re not sure.”
‘Every Time We Go There, It Gets A Little Better’
Charter Schools USA’s senior director of education Billie Miller says the company has needed more data from the district to answer those questions. Now that the students’ enrollment decisions are more-or-less finalized, Miller says Charter Schools USA can start filling out their schools’ staffs and determine which specialized courses they will offer.
Miller says the company is still on track to be “in the middle of hiring” teachers by mid-March, but determining how many teachers the school needs has required very detailed information about students’ interests.
Miller explains that every school, for instance, needs science teachers. But “if only two people indicate that they want to take A.P. Biology,” Miller continues, “then you’re not going to be able to pay for it, because you’re not going to be able to pay for a teacher to teach two students.”
“We’ve been bound a little bit by IPS’s timelines as well,” adds Miller. “IPS has moved their deadlines a couple of times for students to indicate whether or not they were staying with the district. We were stuck until we got those final numbers.”
This chicken-or-the-egg problem typifies the detail concerns that have slowed the takeover process. But Miller says Charter Schools USA’s in-building teams are making headway in moving the process forward.
“Some folks [current staff] are still pretty upset about what’s happening, there’s a little bit of that. But every time we go there, it gets a little better. We’re very optimistic,” Miller says.
Keeping The Mood Light
It’s harder for T.C. Howe’s teachers to stay optimistic. They say the looming takeover has made it difficult for them to focus on tasks like upcoming state tests — which high school-age students must pass to graduate.
“We’re the dance band on the Titanic,” says special education teacher Rich Haton, who has been with IPS for 8 years. “We’re gonna try to keep things light and jazzy and try to do our jobs like professionals until the last day, but we also know the ship’s sunk.”
Social studies teacher Linda Smith, who’s logged 16 years with IPS, says she has built relationships with students and parents. Because the school is a “community high school,” including Grades 7 through 12, Smith worries about what will happen to the students who transfer.
“I have educated families in that building since 2000. I have been through 3 and 4 and 5 siblings and watched them graduate,” Smith says. She says worries most about the students who are juniors this year, but have been at Howe since they were seventh graders.
The T.C. Howe teachers who spoke with StateImpact all say they feel loyal to Indianapolis Public Schools, and hope to stay with the district if they can. But the district is planning on making more cuts to its teaching force — and Charter Schools USA is hiring.