Ask lifelong Southside resident Jessi Chrisentary what is at stake in state board decisions about the fate of Emmerich Manual High School and Emma Donnan Middle School and she has a meaningful one-word reply: “Everything.” Her husband Antonio works at Emma Donnan as a campus monitor, and she is an instructional aide at Emma Donnan Elementary School.
Their eldest daughter Jazmine is a 2018 Manual graduate and is a freshman at Indiana State University. Daughter Jaden is a sophomore at Manual with sons Antonio in 6th grade and Anthony in 8th grade at EDMS.
“As a parent, I am pushing for our kids’ education to be top of the line,” she said. “And if they are here, they are going to get top of the line.” They also are part of a school on the rise at Emma Donnan, a middle school that has risen from an “F” grade to a “C” grade and an elementary school that is an innovative structured school with an “A” grade. And Manual has advanced from an “F” to an “A.”
The accomplishments at the schools have taken place since 2011 when the State Board of Education took over the schools and selected Charter Schools USA as the turnaround school operators. The pact with CSUSA and the state ends in June 2020. Emma Donnan Elementary is a joint CSUSA-IPS operation with talks to renew coming this fall. Jessi not only is a parent and an EDES employee, but she is the parent representative on the SBOE seven-member school transition task force that is scheduled to make its recommendation March 6 to the board, affecting an estimated 1,800 students.
The task force includes representatives of CSUSA, IPS, SBOE, the community and staff. Since October 2018, they have conducted meetings designed for maximum public input with SBOE facilitator Charles Schlegel on the Southside and Eastside because T.C. Howe high School also was among the “failing” schools in 2011. Jessi’s role has been to listen and communicate with attendees and help develop a consensus with task force members.
“Definitely, I feel like an insider,” she said. “This has kept me abreast of what’s going on, the options that are in front of us, and what may take place in the future. Everyone has been very open and honest.” She emphasized that input from the school communities is supportive of CSUSA taking over the schools as traditional charters.
“CSUSA definitely would like to take over,” she remarked. “They have raised two schools (Manual and Emma Donnan) two grades. And IPS has said if it goes back to them, they are not going to operate them.”
EDES is somewhat different because grades K-6 on the first floor of the school are operated under an innovative agreement between IPS and CSUSA for nearly 300 students. Grades 7-8 on the second floor are operated under CSUSA. In 2017, the IPS board approved plans that it would not take back the schools even if they achieved a passing grade from the SBOE. Looking at the last 12 years at Emma Donnan, Jessi said, “Everything seems less chaotic and more under control; and when that happens, all students can learn better. I have seen it come from the pits to rising. And that’s impressive.”
She believes the task force will recommend the best options for the schools and hopes that all stakeholders involved with Manual, Emma Donnan and Howe are supportive of the process ahead.