Struggling Indy charter school set to close at year’s end

In less then a month, the long-struggling Indiana Life Sciences Academy West will close its doors for good.

The K-8 charter school at 4950 W. 34th St., which currently has 479 students, was one of the lowest scoring schools in Indianapolis on last year’s state ISTEP test. The charter manager that runs the school has long faced criticism over so-called charter “shopping” as it shifted its charter applications from one Indiana authorizer to another.

But the decision to close means that families that chose the school will need to find a new school for their children next fall.

In a letter to parents, board president Steven Ramos said the school’s board voted to shut down at a meeting Monday after acknowledging that the school does not have enough money to improve instruction.

“It was not a decision made lightly as we know it affects the future of our students and families,” Ramos wrote. “We are committed to working with you to ensure a smooth transition for your child.”

Indiana Life Sciences Academy West is the last of four Indiana charter schools managed by the Virginia-based Imagine Schools network, which converted to not-for-profit status last summer. Imagine has faced criticism for mismanagement since it opened its first school in Indiana in 2007, and students have consistently scored poorly on state exams. The campus that is closing received an F from the state on this year’s report card. It has not earned above a C since 2010.

Rhonda Cagle, the chief communications officer for Imagine Schools, said students at Imagine schools are making progress in class even if test scores don’t necessarily reflect that.

“We work with parents to provide an educational choice,” she said. “The parents obviously have other choices and they chose to put their children in our schools because they were getting an education that focused on student growth, not just a test score.”

After being rejected for two charters by then-Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, Imagine Schools received charters from Ball State University. When Indiana Life Sciences Academy West was facing a possible shutdown due to poor accountability grades from the state, it found a new sponsor: Trine University, which is 170 miles away from Indianapolis in Angola.

The director of charter schools for Trine could not immediately be reached for comment.

A law passed in 2015 aims to reduce charter “shopping” by requiring any sponsor that receives an application from an existing charter school to notify the school’s current sponsor.

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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