The Indiana State Board of Education voted Jan. 15 to return Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School, Emmerich Manual High School and Thomas Carr Howe Community High School to Indianapolis Public Schools nearly eight years after state takeover began.
The 6-2 vote at the Indiana State Library brought an end to impassioned debates about whether the state’s largest school district should regain control of the schools or if Charter School USA should seek charters to continue operating the schools.
With backing from the school board, IPS leaders announced a plan for the three schools in advance of the vote.
Emmerich Manual High School
Manual will become an innovation school managed by Christel House Academy under IPS oversight.
Christel House Academy South will move into the Manual building next school year and serve the current students, who can complete their high school career at Manual if they choose.
IPS Portfolio Officer Jamie VanDeWalle said there will be a legal provision in the charter to make sure Manual’s namesake remains “prominent” in the school name.
Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School
IPS will find a partner to operate Emma Donnan as an innovation school. Two interested applicants, Phalen Leadership Academy and Adelanta Schools, spoke at a press conference Jan. 11 where IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson detailed the district’s plan for the schools.
A timeline shared in a presentation to the state board indicated IPS will decide on and announce an innovation partner by Feb. 10.
The timeline also included two focus groups for families the week of Jan. 20.
Thomas Carr Howe Community High School
IPS will close Howe for the 2020-21 school year while the Howe Reuse Committee considers the future of the site. IPS leadership has left that future open-ended, and it’s possible the school will close permanently.
Current seventh graders at Howe will be guaranteed a spot at either Harshman Middle School or Longfellow Middle School, two IPS magnet schools, or students can attend their neighborhood middle school.
Students in eighth through 11th grade will get the same guarantee at any of the four IPS-run high schools and Thrival Academy.
VanDeWalle said those students will have guaranteed enrollment even if the schools are technically full.
Asked by a board member why the district couldn’t find an immediate use for Howe, Johnson said IPS leadership talked to potential partners but couldn’t find one that resulted in a viable solution right away.
The largest group of attendees at the state board meeting was made of students, parents and staff affiliated with Howe. They expressed a fear that the east side will be consolidated into one high school at Arsenal Technical High School.
“Here we go again,” Athletic Director Lucian Anderson said during the public comment portion, referencing an unstable history for Howe that includes being closed for five years and then reopened in 2005.
State takeover for the three schools began in 2012.
In a statement, Superintendent Johnson said the district was appreciative of the board’s decision to return the schools to IPS and said district staff will turn its attention to making sure families know what’s coming next.
“Our sights are now on the upcoming family and community meetings for all three schools,” she said. “It is imperative that we receive their input as we move toward preparing them for the 2020-21 school year.”
Most people who were there to support Florida-based Charter School USA — or at least to be in opposition to IPS — left after the vote and did not want to speak to media. Some were in tears.
Robert Orkman, a behavioral specialist and head football coach at Manual, said he was disappointed and hurt following the vote.
“Not for myself, but for all the students,” said Orkman, whose son is a senior at Manual. “We’ve created a family atmosphere. We’re just concerned and worried where those kids are gonna go and how they’ll be treated.”
Speaking to the state board members, Johnson said IPS is not the same district it was when the state takeover began. Since then, the district has become one of the most aggressive in the country at partnering with outside groups to operate schools as charters or innovation schools.
“IPS in 2012 simply does not exist anymore,” Johnson said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.