By Al Stilley
Letters of intent to file charter applications on behalf of Emmerich Manual and T.C. Howe high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School have been submitted to the Indiana Charter School Board. The action was revealed at the Feb. 12 public meeting of the school transition task force with State Board of Education (SBOE) facilitator Charles Schlegel in front of more than 150 Southsiders, including scores of Manual alumni, at Emma Donnan Middle School.
The official letters are a key step in attempting to save the schools before June 2020 when the state’s contract expires with Charter Schools USA (CSUSA). It continues the desired path by survey respondents and the task force. ReThink Forward is the applicant through the existing Nobel Education Initiative that would replicate the current and proven school models.
The letters of intent set in motion the following timeline: March 4 – Three full applications to be submitted to ICSB. March 6 – School transition task force makes its recommendation to SBOE at public meeting, 9 a.m., Indiana Government Center South, auditorium, 302 W. Washington St. March 11 – Public comment period opens on charter applications to ICSB. April 15 – ICSB staff interviews with applicants to determine capacity to implement the proposed plan effectively. April 22 – Earliest that public hearings could be held with representatives of ICSB and board members. May 1 – Public comment period ends. May 14 – Earliest date that ICSB could act; date subject to change.
The seven-member task force met privately Tuesday to finalize its recommendation to the SBOE for the three turnaround schools to operate as full charter schools. In an ongoing survey to guide the task force, 62 percent of respondents wanted CSUSA to continue operating the schools.
It would appear to be the only option available because the Indianapolis Public Schools board adopted a plan that would close Manual and Howe, even if they are no longer “failing” schools. Manual and Emma Donnan each have a “C.” Emma Donnan Middle School (grades 7-8) is operated by CSUSA, but the elementary school, K-6, operates with an innovation agreement with IPS and CSUSA that is up for renewal this fall. Manual principal Misty Ndiritu and Emma Donnan principal Michael Dunagan assured Southsiders last week that existing academic and most extra-curricular programs would continue as traditional charter schools.
Ndiritu announced that Manual would expand college-credit courses for high school students, JROTC and athletic programs would be retained. She expressed pride that graduates from the last two classes have received $1 million in scholarships. Ndiritu emphasized that the valued relationship with the community, especially Manual alumni, would become more essential.
“We are bound for Manual,” said Dunagan of the relationship with the high school. “We will continue to encourage our students to attend Manual. We have enjoyed some of the highest growth (academics) across Indianapolis.” Based on a projected enrollment of 700 students in 2020-2021, Manual would receive about 12 percent less in funds.
Dunagan emphasized that some loss of funds could be partially replaced through competitive federal or state grants or private foundations. IPS currently maintains the buildings and grounds; if a charter were granted, state law requires that IPS allow CSUSA to use the facility for $1. However, IPS has the option to sell or lease the facility.