Thrival Indy Academy Innovation school to close amid low enrollment

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This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Indiana.

Thrival Indy Academy, designed to offer study abroad opportunities to students as an Indianapolis Public Schools Innovation Network high school, will close at the end of the 2023-24 school year after failing to meet enrollment targets.

The school’s board of directors voted on Friday to not renew its Innovation agreement with IPS once it expires at the end of this school year. The high school, located within Arlington Middle School, has 107 students this year who will have guaranteed spots at an IPS high school in 2024-25, according to the district.

Year after year, Thrival could not meet the enrollment targets set forth in its latest Innovation agreement, signed in 2019. This year, that target was set at 300 students.

“When we look at student numbers and enrollment, we have to ask ourselves the question of what student experience can we really give the students?” Julius Mansa, Thrival’s board chairperson, said during the meeting.

The Thrival board also voted to offer retention stipends of $10,000 for teachers and support staff and $12,000 for administrative staff  who stay through the end of the school year.

“This is always the hardest decision to share as a superintendent, but I am committed to getting this transition right for Thrival students, families, and staff,” IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said in a statement. “My pledge to Thrival families is that IPS will have your back every step of the way by helping you find a great IPS high school for your child next school year.”

The high school is one of the few IPS Innovation Network schools that is not a charter school. It is run by a nonprofit organization and a board of directors.

Thrival opened in 2017 as a small pilot program within IPS that allowed students to study abroad in Thailand for free. It later grew to a one-year school that only enrolled juniors.

But the school paused operations for one year in 2019-20 as officials figured how to help students fit the one-year opportunity into four years of high school. Thrival relaunched in 2020-21 as a four-year high school, after signing a new Innovation agreement with IPS that allowed it to start with ninth graders and grow by one grade each school year.

Students were unable to travel for two school years after the pandemic, Mansa said. Last school year, students took a domestic trip. A Puerto Rico trip is planned for some students this year, he said.

Loki Lavin, a sophomore at the school, expressed concern about the transition of Thrival students into much larger schools after Friday’s meeting.

“This school is small and we’re very close-knit like a family,” Lavin said. “And I think that’s part of what makes us different.”

Mansa said he was unsure if the pandemic caused the school’s low enrollment.

“I know it’s a tough enrollment environment in general,” he said. “There’s a lot of options. Students have a lot of choices.”

The district will offer enrollment sessions for each Thrival family, IPS said in a statement.

Enrollment at IPS schools for next school year begins Nov. 1, and families can apply to schools at All IPS school buildings will be open for families to visit during a showcase of schools from 4-8 p.m. Nov. 1.

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

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