School Closings

Howe and Manual will stay open three more years under the management of CSUSA

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

Charter Schools USA will maintain control of Howe and Manual High Schools for three more years — a move that means the schools will be spared from imminent closure.

The chronically failing schools were part of Indianapolis Public Schools until they were taken over by the state in 2012. The Indiana State Board of Education hired CSUSA, a for-profit charter manager out of Florida, to turn around the schools. In the years since, they have made middling progress.

The board voted 9-2 to extend the contract with CSUSA to 2019-2020, two years later than it was expected to end. The contract at another takeover school, Emma Donnan Middle School, was already extended until 2020 as part of a plan that created an innovation elementary school on the campus in partnership with IPS.

Board members Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager voted against the contract extension. But some other board members staunchly supported giving CSUSA more time to turn around the schools.

“I think the results are remarkable,” said board member David Freitas. “Why wouldn’t we support remarkable results?”

That was a sentiment echoed by Jon Hage, the CEO of CSUSA, who said “the results have been pretty good over the last five years.”

But the data is not entirely sunny. Last year, students showed improvement on early assessment data the manager shared with the board. Yet, all of the Indianapolis takeover schools managed by CSUSA are getting Fs on the state accountability system. The new elementary school that CSUSA began in partnership with IPS is rated D, but it is also one of the worst performing schools in the district, according to an IPS analysis.

Hage said CSUSA is revamping its approach. That includes establishing an Indiana team to manage the schools and a nonprofit to oversee them. CSUSA is also working with Peggy Hinckley, a former superintendent who is also leading the takeover of Gary schools.

“In hindsight, there’s probably better ways to do turnaround in the future,” Hage said, “but doing nothing would’ve been a failure too.”

State superintendent Jennifer McCormick voted for the contract extension, but she was tepid in her assessment of CSUSA’s progress.

“Are they exactly where we want them to be? No. … They have a long way to go, but at least they are showing an upward movement,” she said. “Their trend data shows improvements.”

The decision to extend the contract for CSUSA means the schools are likely to remain open for at least three years. That contrasts with a plan released by the IPS administration, which recommends closing Howe and Manual if they are returned to the district’s control.

There were no IPS representatives at the meeting of the state board Wednesday, and some board members argued they should delay the vote until hearing directly from the administration. But ultimately, they did not wait for IPS input.

The IPS proposal to close Howe and Manual is part of a broad plan to reconfigure high schools across the district, which the IPS board is expected to vote on in September. Because some of the schools involved are in state intervention, the district will need support from the state board.

The school closing plan is designed to reduce costs in the cash-strapped district, where high schools are less than half full.

That’s a problem also facing the schools managed by CSUSA, which are vastly underutilized, said Hage. But he argued the decision on the future of the schools should not be made yet.

Putting off the decision is costly, however. The schools receive about $1,500-$3,300 per student extra from the state, said McCormick.

“When you look at those additional dollars, you are hoping you are getting your bang for your buck,” she said. “Anytime you are putting millions of dollars behind something, you obviously have your eyes on it.”

new year

Here are the Memphis schools opening and closing this school year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Alcy Elementary Schools is being demolished this summer to make way for a new building on the same property that will also house students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.

Six schools will open and six will close as the new school year begins next month.

This year’s closures are composed mostly of charter schools. That’s a shift from recent years — about two dozen district-run schools have shuttered since 2012. All of the schools opening are charter schools, bringing the district’s total to 57, which is more than half of the charter schools statewide.

Below is a list of closures and openings Chalkbeat has compiled from Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools Opening

  • Believe Memphis Academy is a new college preparatory charter school that will focus on literacy while serving students in fourth and fifth grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade.
  • Crosstown High School will focus on creating student projects that solve problems of local businesses and organizations. The school will start with 150 ninth-graders and will be housed in a building shared with businesses and apartments in Crosstown Concourse, a renovated Sears warehouse.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy will open its fifth school starting with middle schoolers. It will eventually expand to create the Memphis network’s second high school in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.
  • Memphis Business Academy will open an elementary school and a middle school in Hickory Hill. The schools were originally slated to open in 2017, but were delayed to finalize property and financing, CEO Anthony Anderson said.
  • Perea Elementary School will focus on emotional health and community supports for families living in poverty. District leaders initially rejected its application, but school board members approved it. They liked the organization’s academic and community work with preschoolers in the same building.

Schools Closing

  • Alcy Elementary School will be demolished this summer to make room for a new building. It is expected to open in 2020 with students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.
  • Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy will close. The charter network’s founder, Willie Herenton, a former Memphis school superintendent, said in April the schools are closing because of a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
  • GRAD Academy, part of the Achievement School District, announced in January the high school would close because the Houston-based charter organization could not sustain it. It was the third school in the district to close since the state-run district started in 2012.
  • Legacy Leadership Academy is closing after its first year because the charter organization lost its federal nonprofit status, and enrollment was low.
  • Manor Lake Elementary is closing to merge with nearby Geeter Middle School because low enrollment made for extra room in their buildings. The new Geeter K-8 will join eight others in the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a neighborhood school improvement program started by Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School.

School Closings

Memphis charter school signs lease within district boundaries, allowing it to stay open

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones
The Bartlett storefront Gateway University High School used for the 2017-18 school year.

A Memphis charter school on the brink of closure over the location of its building has signed a lease within Shelby County Schools’ boundaries.

Gateway University High School will move into Holy Nation Church of Memphis on Brownsville Road near Craigmont High School after being in a Memphis suburb since opening in August 2017, according to a spokeswoman for the charter school.

In response, Shelby County Schools will pull its recommendation to revoke the school’s charter, according to the school board’s agenda. The district had called for the school’s closure because of a new state law that prohibits charter schools operating outside of the authorizing district’s limits.

The Tennessee Department of Education gave school leaders until July 1 to comply with an attorney general’s opinion issued in September and to comply with the school’s contract that stated it would operate “within the local school district of Shelby County, Tennessee.” Their previous building was a storefront in Bartlett.

The board was set to vote on the matter Tuesday — five days before the state’s deadline.