Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Lost To Dropouts & Takeovers, Indy Schools Seek To Lure Students Back

Henry Jordan, a dean at IPS' George Washington Community High School, walks in the middle of a street on the east side of Indianapolis. Census data shows more than half of the families in this neighborhood live on less than $30,000 per year.

“Patience,” Henry Jordan says. It’s a virtue. And you need it on these streets.

You need patience, the dean at George Washington Community High School says, to understand how people in these poor neighborhoods on Indianapolis’ east side view the education they have decided to forego altogether.

You need patience to understand why some of them don’t come to the door when you knock, offering them an opportunity to come back to school. Some of them would probably be considered “at-risk students” if they were still students in Indianapolis Public Schools. Some of them are working. Some of them just aren’t interested.

But Jordan is working — patiently but urgently — to convince some of them to come back.

‘We’re Reclaiming Our Students’

Thirty-eight thousand students dropped out of Indiana schools between 2005 and 2011. Though some of the highest dropout rates are in the state’s rural districts, no district produced a higher number of dropouts in that time period than Indianapolis Public Schools.

So Jordan is on a team of IPS employees and volunteers who are trying to convince dropouts in the district to return to school this year.

But the district’s second annual “Reclaim Your Future” campaign isn’t only seeking to lure back students who’ve dropped out.

As they comb the city’s neighborhoods, IPS teams are also knocking on the doors of students who’ve left the district for charter schools.

Additionally, in the attendance areas of the four schools now run by state-appointed turnaround companies, the district is contacting the students who never told the district whether they’d prefer to stay in IPS and were thus enrolled by default in the new takeover schools.

“It’s a competition situation. We’re reclaiming our students back, just like they want our students,” Jordan says.

Healthy Competition

The reclamation campaign is one more example of how a broader range of choices for parents and students about where to go to school has changed the tenor of the discussion around education in Indianapolis.

Officials Charter Schools USA — the turnaround company charged with turning around Emma Donnan Middle School as well as T.C. Howe and Emmerich Manual High Schools — says the competition for students can be healthy, so long as it’s focused on informing parents about the options and improving

“I think it’s OK to have some competition for kids to the extent we’re all trying to create better schools,” Jon Hage, the CEO of Charter Schools USA says, adding in an interview with StateImpact that the working relationship with Indianapolis Public Schools was improving.

IPS Director of Student Assignment Rocky Grismore says students drop out or leave the district for any number of reasons.

“Kids see roadblocks that are not really roadblocks,” he says, adding the key to bringing them back is to let them know personally the district willing work with them.

“If we can develop a relationship that allows for a student to ask for someone to help them over that first hurdle, that’s why I’m here,” Grismore says, “and I think that’s why our team members are out there doing what they’re doing.”

Parents Don’t Always Buy

But even those planning to come back to school aren’t always interested in coming back to IPS.

While going door-to-door, the IPS team knocked on Frances Morgan’s door. Her grandson Xavier was slated to attend T.C. Howe High School — one of the takeover schools — by default. Morgan did not respond when the district asked for her choice to have Xavier transfer to another IPS school or remain at T.C. Howe High School.

“You understand that Howe isn’t an IPS school anymore?” IPS parent liaison Aleanya Moore asks Morgan.

“Yeah, it’s a charter?” Morgan answers. “I think Xavier might be better at a charter school because he was getting in so much trouble at IPS, so I think I might want to try that charter.”

Moore wants Morgan to know it’s not too late to change her mind

“Have you tried the magnet programs?” Moore asks.

Morgan does perk up at the mention of IPS’ selective magnet programs. Morgan takes some of the district’s paperwork, but still says she has a decision to make.

But not far from Morgan’s porch, Rhonda Robison has been waiting for the IPS team.

Her son was automatically enrolled in a takeover school as well — but only because of an administrative snafu. Robison wants him to remain in the district, but she says getting him re-registered would have been a hassle.

“Having the IPS come to do the reclaim program from house to house is good for people like me who cannot get out and have that time or the transportation to be able to do that,” Robison says.

Relationships & Returns

Jordan and Grismore both say building relationships with community members is an area where IPS has improved considerably. The Reclaim Your Future campaign isn’t costly, they say, and it comes with the secondary benefit of increasing IPS’ visibility in the neighborhoods.

Between students lost to dropout, charters, or those who defaulted to takeover schools, IPS hopes to contact 7,200 households this year.

But district officials know they’re not likely to get anywhere near that many students to return. Last year, the district knocked on 5,000 doors.

Barely 100 students came back.

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