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IPS Ends Deal With Charter Schools USA, Creating Uncertainty For Takeover Schools

Emma Donan School

(Eric Weddle, WFYI)

Indianapolis Public Schools Board voted unanimously Thursday to not renew a contract with the for-profit operator of one of its first innovation partnerships.

Emma Donna Elementary School was opened by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA in 2015 in partnership with IPS. The company also operates Emma Donnan Middle School as part of a state-mandated takeover. The two schools created a K-to-8 southside campus where students were taught by the private company’s teachers.

When the partnership was approved, it signaled a drastic change in the relationship between the two organizations. In 2011, the State Board of Education took control of Emma Donnan Middle School and three other IPS high schools due to chronic academic failure. Charter Schools USA was hired to turn around the middle school and Thomas Carr Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools.

The state’s decision set off bitter fighting at the time, pitting IPS against CSUSA and state education leaders.

IPS Board Commissioner Diane Arnold was on the board when the takeovers occurred. Then in 2015, Arnold voted to approve the innovation partnership with CSUSA. She said it seemed reasonable, given CSUSA was in control of the middle school. The company hoped it could improve academic achievement by creating a K-8 school that students could potentially attend up until high school.

But Thursday, Arnold said time had run out. The five-year innovation agreement between IPS and CSUSA was up for renewal. The school’s academic achievements weren’t enough to keep working with the company, she said.

“I think it was the other issues that came up. The leadership. The drastic teacher turnover rates and some of the other issues, like not getting information from them,” Arnold said. “I don’t think it was a mistake (to approve in 2015). We gave it a chance.”

No one from Charter Schools USA or its partners attended the board meeting. IPS plans to keep the school open. The district will explain the next steps for Emma Donnan families at community meetings in December.

Next month, IPS plans to formally ask the State Board of Education to return Emma Donnan Middle School to the district in June 2020 when the state takeover expires.

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