Senior staff writer
Emmerich Manual High School is moving from academic failure to progress.
The historic campus has gone through many changes but none more publicized or critical than the Indiana Department of Education’s takeover of the school as well as three other Indianapolis high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School.
The department contracted with Florida-based Charter Schools USA as the “turnaround school operator” of Manual. The program was launched with the 2012-13 academic year.
When CSUSA took over, the school’s academic standards were at a historic low with many students not attending classes, sleeping in class or roaming unmonitored hallways.
Manual band director Mike Weber was there before the state-mandated takeover.
“The culture has shifted back to an academic culture,” Weber said. “There had been a lot of burnout with teachers and that has shifted completely in the opposite direction. We have a lot of teachers with passion and fire who are willing to put a lot of extra hours with the students.”
Manual’s enrollment during the first year under CSUSA fell to 466; now it’s about 700.
The transition from Indianapolis Public Schools to CSUSA management resulted in a celebratory D rating for the 2013-14 school year and a D-plus rating for last year.
“The students are a lot more respectable, more apt to do what they are told, and they are listening to ways to become more successful,” Weber said. “That buy-in gets greater each year, and that’s why our enrollment numbers are going up and so are our testing scores.”
Vastly improved discipline and academic assistance for students has led the way in getting students on track.
In CSUSA’s first year at Manual, students entered classrooms one at a time, got their assignments from their teachers and went to their seats. Discipline was restored so that academic progress could begin.
“If you have discipline in the classroom, you can teach and do your job,” Manual Principal Mike Stamper said. “A lot of our academic success has evolved from that.”
Stamper, former lead principal for CSUSA, points to a “restorative justice” program that includes hallway monitors, increased tutoring, academic emphasis and the importance of extracurricular activities.
“Manual is not what it used to be,” said Stamper, who has served as assistant principal at Greenwood High. “Everything has been put into perspective to get kids in class, get the halls cleared so that teaching can take place.”
In the months before the changeover, parents and students expressed their concern about improved academics and the continuation of programs like band, choir, JROTC and athletics.
Manual alumni were critical of then-IPS Superintendent Eugene White, who encouraged other IPS high schools to actively compete for Manual students and to move extracurricular programs to other IPS schools. The parents formally protested his approach, which they say would have negatively affected Manual.
CSUSA President/CEO Jon Hage arrived and personally addressed the parents’ concerns.
Not only are student achievement and discipline on the upswing but so are JROTC, music and athletics.
The school’s JROTC program, which has 115 cadets – 16.4 percent of the student body – will observe its centennial celebration early next year. Historically, JROTC is one of Manual’s most successful and traditional programs.
Col. Ken Duxbury explained that the enrollment for many years was dominated by freshmen and sophomores with fewer juniors and seniors. Today’s enrollment is better balanced among the four classes.
“The program is growing again because the enrollment has grown,” Duxbury said. “We have steadily increased our numbers to the level we want to be. Because the academic rigor has increased, we have more students with better grades and that is giving us more flexibility.”
Music is again thriving after a publicity surge a few years ago and under CSUSA’s emphasis with renewed funding.
Weber reported that the band program has 90 students whereas two years before CSUSA management the program had six participants. The instrumental program consists of the marching band, which competes annually in the Bands of America contest at Lucas Oil Stadium, an orchestra, an advanced band and a jazz ensemble that has performed at various coffee shops and churches.
“We are at an improved performing level,” Weber said. “We have a level of funding that we’ve never had before.”
Stamper also explained that administrators and teachers are better connected with the students through a variety of special events. Faculty members dressed in red, white and blue on the opening day of the Summer Olympics. And faculty and students replicated game day in advance of Manual’s home football opener this season.
(Next: The future of Manual.)