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Turnaround company wants to launch feeder schools

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Charter Schools USA, the Florida-based company tapped by the state  to turn around Howe and Manual high schools in Indianapolis, also wants to launch two charter elementary schools to help feed students into those schools.

“The vision is to create a K-12 system,” said Richard Page, vice president of development for Charter Schools USA. “Ultimately, the sooner you can get to the students, the better opportunity you have to ensure that they stay on course.”

The Indiana Charter School Board will hold a hearing Wednesday night to consider the two K-6 schools Charter Schools USA wants to start. The for-profit company hopes to locate one in the area near Thomas Carr Howe Community School on the east side of Indianapolis and the other near Emmerich Manual High School on the south side.

Each elementary school would enroll as many as 1,000 students, Page said, and would employ about 50 teachers each. A decision is expected on Dec. 19. If approved, the schools would open for the 2012-'13 school year.

Graduates of those schools would not be given preferential enrollment at Howe, Manual or Emma Donnan Middle School, which Charter Schools has also been hired to turn around. That’s because Howe, Manual and Donnan would remain traditional public schools, not directly under the control of Charter Schools USA,  but simply managed by them.

Nevertheless, the company plans to offer a similar structure and environment at both its charter elementary schools and the high schools it manages, Page said.

The move by Charter Schools USA suggests the company expects to be operating Howe and Manual for the long term, even though its contract to do so runs for just five years. That's in part because the state Legislature and the State Board of Education have yet to define an exit process for turnaround schools.

“We’re taking the view that we’re operating these schools indefinitely,” Page said.

The turnaround process was first put into motion by a 1999 law, which said schools with student standardized test scores in the lowest category for five straight years could face intervention from the State Board of Education.

Various delays pushed the first possible year of intervention to 2011, when seven schools qualified for state intervention. The State Board of Education chose to take over five schools: four in Indianapolis and one in Gary.

In addition to Howe, Manual and Donnan, the other Indianapolis school taken over was Arlington High School. All four schools were part of the Indianapolis Public Schools district.

Charter Schools USA was hired by the State Board of Education to manage Howe, Manual and Emma Donnan. Indianapolis-based EdPower, a school management arm of the Charles A. Tindley charter school, was hired to manage Arlington.

Charter Schools USA manages 31 charter schools in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana that enroll 25,000 students. It has done a small amount of work trying to turn around persistently struggling public schools.

He also acknowledged that the elementary schools will help with recruiting students to Howe and Manual, since IPS has been making moves to lure those students to the other schools it still controls. Each student enrolled in a school in Indianapolis brings more than $8,000 in state aid.

In January, Charter Schools USA plans to launch a big marketing push for students to attend Howe, Manual and Donnan.

Asked what Charter Schools USA can do to improve Howe and Manual that IPS hadn’t already tried, Page said it would introduce some new software tools to track student performance and to help teachers identify more quickly which students have grasped which skills, and then differentiate instruction accordingly.

But most importantly, Page said, Charter Schools intends to establish a different culture in the schools. One major way of doing that would be to replace many of the teachers. In previous turnaround efforts, 30 percent to 70 percent of teachers have been replaced, Charter Schools USA officials said.

“Our intention is to change that culture and create a culture of high expectations within the school,” Page said.

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