Future of Schools

Monument Lighthouse charter school will close this spring

Monument Lighthouse Charter School is on Indianapolis’ northeast side near Lawrence Township.

The Indianapolis governing board that oversees two Lighthouse charter schools informed parents Thursday that the Monument Lighthouse school will close at year’s end.

The board decided the school, at 4002 Franklin Road, had not made enough progress toward the academic goals it established for itself upon opening in 2007, according to Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth. Another school operated by the board will absorb students from Monument Lighthouse, and the city will also help find spots in other schools for the 607 students who will be displaced by the closure.

Charter schools are operated by arrangements that can be complex, and Lighthouse is no exception. The two Indianapolis schools are sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard, who is responsible for monitoring their progress and can decide to close them if they don’t meet performance targets. Charter schools are directly guided, however, by local boards of citizens. In this case, that local board oversees two schools — Monument Lighthouse and Indianapolis Lighthouse — and picked an out-of-state company to manage it.

That company, Massachusetts-based Lighthouse Academies hires the principal and employs the staff at both schools. The company has a 20-school network in eight states.

The Monument school was due for a decision from Ballard’s charter school office as to whether it would earn a renewal of hits charter to keep operating at the end of the school year. By deciding to close on its own, the school made that decision instead of the mayor.

Kloth said it was a “responsible” decision by the school’s board and that the mayor’s office supported it.

“We have a shared belief it is in the best interest of students in the short term and in the longer term broadly,” Kloth said.

There is enough capacity at the Indianapolis Lighthouse campus at 1780 Sloan Ave. to accommodate any student that wants to transfer. The Lighthouse board is hoping they will.  Kloth said the mayor’s office will facilitate counseling for families to weigh other options, too, including transfers to other charters or traditional public schools.

While the Indianapolis Lighthouse board decided not to seek renewal of the Monument Lighthouse charter it will simultaneously expand its other location and could return to the Franklin Road location eventually. The board’s plan is to seek a future charter to replicate what it sees as a more successful program at the Indianapolis Lighthouse school in 2015, possibly at the Monument school site.

The Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School is on the city’s southside. It has offered to absorb students when its sister school closes.

“We are excited to be undertaking he expansion of what we and the mayor’s office see as a high quality college prep program to meet the needs of the city,” said Samuel Snideman, who chairs the Indianapolis Lighthouse board, in a statement posted on the mayor’s Web site.

Monument Lighthouse, which serves grades K to 11, earned a D on its state report card for low state test scores and limited gains last year. This year’s report card has not yet been issued. The prior two years, the school earned A’s. Monument serves a student body that has 90 percent of students who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 97 percent who are minorities.

Its test scores have made progress, but slowly, and it has never approached the state average of 73 percent passing both English and math on ISTEP. Last year, 47 percent of students passed both parts, a dip from its all-time high of 52 percent the prior year. Its low was 37 percent passing the year the school opened in 2007-08.

That performance isn’t terribly different from its sister school, Indianapolis Lighthouse, which received a C this year and an A the prior year. But Indianapolis Lighthouse, which serves a student body that is 90 percent poor and 75 percent minority, has a more steadily upward trend in test scores, with more than 50 percent passing both parts of ISTEP the past three years.

In its six-year review of the Monument Lighthouse school earlier this year, Ballard’s review team found it met four of eight standards that it was evaluated on. By comparison, Indianapolis Lighthouse me seven of 11 standards in a mayor’s office checkup in 2012. Among the deficiencies cited at Monument Lighthouse by the Mayor’s review was teaching was not consistent with the school’s mission and a school climate that was “not conducive to student and staff success.”

For example the review report states that: “A consistent problem at Monument Lighthouse schools during this school year has been the use of long-term substitute teachers in the classroom, with five classes being taught by substitutes at one point during the school year.”

Discipline was also a problem.

“The parents interviewed were quite clear — they did not believe that in the past the school disciplinary system was effective or fair” the review team wrote. “They noted that when they visited their students’ classrooms in the past that here was often ‘no learning happening,’ and that their students were often censured for petty and inconsequential offenses.”

This is the second charter school to announce it will close this school year. Last month the International School, a Columbus charter school, abruptly closed for financial reasons. It is also the second mayor-sponsored charter school to close in the past two years. The Indianapolis Project School closed in 2012 by an order from the mayor’s office because of academic and financial concerns.

Earlier this year, Ball State University declined to renew a charter for one of three Lighthouse schools in Gary and East Chicago because of poor academic performance, prompting the company to reorganize in that part of the state. The three northwest Indiana schools all served grades K to 12 but now have consolidated into two schools. Each site has elementary grades with a consolidated high school campus attached to the Gary school.


Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”