Private companies will take over five public schools in Gary and Indianapolis that a state official called in "various stages of dire situations" after the State Board of Education made the recommendation Monday because of poor classroom performance.
The board endorsed the Indiana Department of Education's recommendations that New York-based Edison Learning Inc. take over Gary Roosevelt High School; that Indianapolis-based charter school operator EdPower take over Indianapolis Arlington High School; and that Florida-based Charter Schools USA become the "turnaround school operator" of three other Indianapolis schools, Howe and Manual high schools and Donnan Middle School.
The companies will spend the academic year assessing and evaluating the schools and developing a plan of action before taking full control next school year.
"All of the schools are in various stages of dire situations. The situation at Roosevelt is particularly stark," said Dale Chu, assistant state school superintendent for innovation and improvement.
Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White said his schools have made "substantial progress" and that the evaluations of Arlington and Howe high schools weren't fair because they included test scores of seventh- and eighth-graders who also attend those schools. The IPS board voted last week to sue the Department of Education over the evaluations that made the schools vulnerable to takeover under a 1999 school accountability law.
Chu said Gary Roosevelt, with about 1,300 students in seventh through 12th grades, regressed in some areas between state visits in 2009 and 2010. He said many students felt unsafe and less than 40 percent of students graduate. He described the principal's role as like that of a "firefighter" constantly turning from one burning problem to another.
Edison operates several charter schools in Chicago, including one that ranked fifth among non-selective Chicago public high schools in college enrollment, so it has regional infrastructure that should help Roosevelt, Chu said.
Michael Malone, Edison's regional vice president for business development, said the company might bring in former NBA star Magic Johnson, with whom it has an association, for a community meeting with Roosevelt grad Glenn Robinson, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball who went on to star at Purdue and in the NBA.
A message seeking comment was left with the staff of Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Myrtle Campbell.
State school Turnaround Director James Larson said DOE staff visiting Arlington High found classrooms with no discipline, students resting their heads on desks and no academic questioning of students by teachers.
"We saw very little learning taking place, in classroom after classroom," Larson said.
However, IPS' White said "we strongly object" to the takeovers of Arlington and Howe because if they were evaluated on students only in grades nine to 12, instead of with grades seven and eight, the data would show them succeeding.
"If Arlington and Howe were stand-alone high schools, both schools would receive a 'C' grade and would be allowed to continue with educational programs that are obviously working," White told the board before it voted on the recommended takeovers. Afterward, he said, "There's no reason to be happy."
EdPower, the company recommended to take over Arlington, operates the nearby charter Tindley Accelerated School that has a strong academic record with high expectations for its students. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the school in April.
Charter Schools USA, selected to take over three other IPS schools, has succeeded in getting parents involved in their children's schools, said Richard Page, the company's vice president for development and
Some board members noted some of Manual's staff members have been profiled favorably in a series of stories by The Indianapolis Star. Member Vicki Snyder of Evansville suggested the staff deserved more time to turn around the school's performance.
"What's to stop Charter Schools USA from going in and cleaning house?" Snyder asked.
Page said at three charter schools his company has taken over, some — but not most — staff remained on the faculty afterward.
"We will go through a very rigorous evaluation of the staff," Page told the board.
Indiana school Superintendent Tony Bennett said the state might make some missteps in taking over schools, but those targeted for the action already were in trouble.
"To believe we won't hit obstacles, that's wrong," Bennett said.
The board also adopted the DOE recommendations that two other Indianapolis high schools, Washington and Broad Ripple, receive private partners for targeted improvements.