Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

When Enrollment Is A Moving Target, Turnaround Operators Do Best To Prepare

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Spencer Lloyd, center, and other teachers in his department work to develop curriculum based on state education standards. Lloyd taught at Manual High School last year and is one of the few educators who will return now that the school is under the management of turnaround operator Charter Schools USA.

“It’s not going to be a light switch we’re going to flip and all the students are going to say, ‘Oh.’”
—Spencer Lloyd, choir teacher

Five Indiana schools will be under new management this fall after a rocky year in transition. It’s the first time the state has used Public Law 221 to take control of failing schools, so when the Department of Education announced it would intervene, no one knew quite what the process would look like.

Spencer Lloyd, the choir teacher at Manual High School, describes what happened last year as “tumultuous.” He’s one of only a handful of Indianapolis Public School teachers now employed by turnaround operator Charter Schools USA. Sitting in his office, he ticks the others off on his fingers.

“So myself, the band director and the art teacher, we all are returners,” says Lloyd. “And then I know there is an English teacher … and there might only be five of us or so.”

Down the hall, a group of new teachers are in Lloyd’s choir room, receiving training on an online system to share lesson plans. Many of them will teach for first time next year.

Lloyd is a young teacher, too, but he’s accomplished a lot in just four years, from packing an auditorium with 3,000 community members for a Christmas concert and taking students to perform at Carnegie Hall. So leaving the program he’d built wasn’t an option.

Teachers who wanted to stay at the three schools CSUSA is operating had to reapply for their jobs. Others found employment elsewhere with IPS.

“IPS still needs outstanding teachers,” Lloyd says. “There are still outstanding teachers in IPS. Many of them.”

In May, IPS announced it would lay off almost 100 teachers due to budget cuts necessitated by a loss of state funding from the four takeover schools.

Principal Says Turning Around High Schools Will Be Harder

CSUSA has a four-year contract with the state but has said improving these schools — Manual, Emma Donnan Middle School and T.C. Howe Community High School — might take even longer. Still, new teachers are optimistic as they report for faculty training.

Most school districts don’t offer three full weeks of professional development. On a recent Thursday, CSUSA employees explained how to reverse engineer lesson plans from the Indiana standards students are expected to master.


As teachers work with their departments to design curriculum, Manual Principal Byron Ernest passes through the lunchroom giving a tour to a prospective teacher. Even though school starts August 6, CSUSA is still hiring and students are still enrolling.

“I probably give four to five tours a day through the school of parents and families who will show up,” says Ernest. “And as I’ve always said, it’s not about seeing the facilities it’s the conversation you have while doing it.”

Ernest is new to CSUSA. Before, he taught in Lebanon and had never been a principal before. But he says he’s a big believer in school choice — and for him, the time had come to “walk the talk.”

“It’s not about necessarily the competition for students but it’s about students do have a choice where they go to school.”
—Byron Ernest, Manual Principal 

Manual is a good fit for Ernest, a former agricultural sciences teacher. The school already has a strong program, and Ernest says students need more classes where they can see how what they’re learning connects to their life outside of school. He says CSUSA’s approach is all about personalization, from crafting individual education plans to issuing narrative report cards that explain why students received the grades they did. But mostly, he says it will take time to see results.

“We know as students get older, that gap widens and is a lot tougher to get made up,” Ernest says.

Turnaround Operators Call Competition With IPS ‘Healthy’

Counselors have started building student schedules, but it’s hard to get anyone at the for-profit CSUSA to pin down just how many students have enrolled in the three schools the company will operate.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Vickie Goldsby, right, works with other English language arts teachers at a faculty work session at Manual High School. Goldsby taught at Saint Philip Neri Catholic School before applying to Charter Schools USA. She'll teach at T.C. Howe Community High School next year.

It’s been a contentious battle because money is flowing into the schools based on last year’s enrollment numbers. That leaves the turnaround operators with a windfall and IPS, where many of the students have gone, with a deficit.

At a community picnic last week, CEO Jon Hage told StateImpact enrollment figures continued “to move all over the place” as CSUSA worked to recruit as yet undecided students from IPS.

“I think it’s OK to have some competition for kids to the extend we’re all trying to create better schools,” Hage said.

Principal Ernest puts it this way: “Students do have a choice.”

In February, about 40 percent of students chose to stay with IPS. Now the choir teacher, Lloyd, says he’s waiting to see how many of the students he stayed to teach show up on the first day of school.


  • inteach

    Please remember to mention Charter Schools USA is a for-profit entity.

    Principal Ernest, a former agricultural sciences teacher at a rural district, is now running a large, urban high school? Like lambs to the slaughter…

  • Business_B4education

    Yes, CSUSA is a FOR PROFIT company. They Lured me in with a great sales pitch last year, utter chaos, no one was prepared, some children went without text books for months. I was promised ALL current accomadations on my Federal Mandated IEP.
    They had no library, nor media, or computers…. The school had nothing to offer SP needs kids!~
    The Best teachers were let go… everything was secretive, there ended up being a recording if you called the front office, God forbid you had an emergency. But yet they continue to operate, and open schools, FOR PROFIT, at the expense of kids education… seems criminal? The only one profiting here is CSUSA Corp. Oh, Parents get ready, becasue you will have to basically run the school, it’s required!
    … LOL, and buy everything they need. Been there done that, and I would run the other way from that Corporation. I am for choice, this is was clearly a bait and switch at my childs expense. put it this way… out of say 38000 students.. they gained a mere 800? good luck

  • John Birchfield

    Byron Ernest is entertaining and can charm you with his “good ol’ boy” mannerisms. It will now be interesting to see if he can actually produce results. It should be noted that in past teaching positions (Lebanon and Clinton Central) there were other teachers in his department that did the majority of the work and were willing to pick up the slack when Mr. Ernest was too lazy to do his part. Now he is in a position where he must be held accountable. I wonder who will be his scapegoat at Manual? This should be a very interesting story to watch unfold. Will he be blamed if failures occur? Perhaps not. Having known this man for many years I can tell you that he has the uncanny ability to “fall into a pile of cow manure and still come out smelling like roses”. We shall see.

  • John Birchfield

    As of July 2014 Byron Ernest resigned from his position as principal at Manual High School. No discernable improvements were made during his short tenure. As “inteach” noted in a previous comment “Like lambs to the slaughter…..”

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