Seven more charter schools on tap for Indianapolis

Mayor Greg Ballard’s office has approved seven more charter schools for Indianapolis—more than half as many as he approved in his previous five years in office.

Only one of the new schools will be operated by an organization that is new to Indianapolis. The other six are additional locations that will be operating by existing charter school groups, including The Challenge Foundation, Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana and Tindley Charter Network.

“For about the past two years, we’ve been fostering these conversations around replications and expansions of existing, high-performing schools,” said Beth Bray, director of charter schools in Ballard’s administration. She said it was “somewhat coincidental” that so many new charters were approved at once.

The approvals must be ratified by the City-County Council before the schools can get off the ground. The council heard a first reading of the proposals at its meeting on Monday night.

The schools:

—  Vision Academy, a second elementary school operated by the Challenge Foundation;

— Indiana Math and Science Academy-South, the third K-12 school operated in Indianapolis by that organization;

— Excel Center-Lafayette Square, the fourth school run by Goodwill in Indianapolis for adults without a high-school diploma;

— Three elementary schools run by Tindley that will feed into its high school, Tindley Accelerated School. Tindley is creating a mini-school district of seven charter schools spanning K-12;

— VBP Indy, a K-8 school focused on Latino students. Operated in partnership with Cathedral High School, the school will use a classical educational model.

“Their model is really interesting,” Bray said of VBP Indy. “It is truly one of the strongest applications that we have ever seen to date.”

Prior to approving the batch, Ballard’s office had OK'd 12 charters since taking office on Jan. 1, 2008. He also shut down one school.

Bray noted that Ballard’s office has approved only 16 percent of all charter applications it has received.

Ballard set a goal in September 2011 of adding 20 new charter schools in the city in five years, even though that plan was criticized by Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White as an attempt to flood his district with competing schools.

Since setting that goal, Ballard’s office has approved eight charters.

Bray credited grant programs funded by the city and Indianapolis-based education group The Mind Trust for getting more schools to consider adding  locations. Cathedral High School received an $11,500 grant from the city in 2011 that helped lead to the VBP Indy application.

Also, Christel House Academy, which won a $1 million grant from Mind Trust, launched a third school this year and plans to apply for more charters this spring.

David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust and the first director of charter schools in Indianapolis, said it is part of the natural maturation of the local charter school community to see older schools start to add locations.

“What we’re seeing is the successful charters that have been around for a while are now starting replicate,” Harris said.

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