FORT WAYNE – The fate of three local charter schools is on the line during ongoing reviews by Ball State University.
The schools all recently submitted documents to make their case for five-year charter renewals.
Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway are both seeking their first five-year charter renewals. Since it opened in 2002, Timothy L. Johnson has received a two-year extension, a three-year renewal and a one-year extension.
All three are authorized by Ball State, which up until 2010 was one of only a handful of charter authorizers in the state. Recent legislation established a statewide charter school board that can sponsor new schools and also allows 30 private, nonprofit four-year colleges to sponsor charters.
Charter schools use taxpayer money but operate independently of public school districts. Currently, Allen County is home to five charter schools. Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy and Smith Academy for Excellence are authorized by the Indiana Charter School Board and Grace College, respectively.
Ball State currently oversees 42 charter schools across the state.
Imagine MASTer Academy’s charter expired last year but was granted a one-year extension as Ball State revamped its renewal process.
Robert Marra, director of the university’s Office of Charter Schools, said his office received a grant from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers that allowed the university to re-evaluate and update some of its procedures. He said the new process will take a deeper look at its three core areas: governance, finance and academic achievement.
The new measures will look at the performance of the schools’ subgroups, like minorities or those qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches; compare the charter schools with the public school districts they operate within and traditional public schools nearby; and evaluate schools’ rankings under the state’s accountability system.
The process included a site visit from Marra’s team during which officials went over the new application with charter schools, he said. Schools will submit the application along with supporting standardized test score data for review by the university.
Marra and his office will evaluate the applications and corresponding data and make recommendations with final approval by Ball State President Jo Ann Gora by March 1.
Recommendations could be closing the charter school, extending the charter to give the school more time to improve, or granting the five-year renewal, Marra said.
All three charter schools fared poorly under the state’s most recent accountability system that assigns letter grades A-F to schools. Both Imagine schools received F’s and Timothy L. Johnson earned a D, but area educators have questioned the reliability of the ratings under this year’s revamped system.
Marra said the schools will also be judged by growth data, also provided by the state, and scores on the ISTEP+ and Northwest Evaluation Association standardized tests.
Rachel Cirullo, Imagine’s regional director, said that based on the site visit, when Ball State officials toured the schools, observed classrooms and talked with teachers, Imagine is confident both of its Fort Wayne schools will remain open.
She said officials were impressed with the schools’ student growth plans, data-driven instruction, communication with parents and teacher collaboration.
We had a positive feeling from our site visit, she said. We’re confident things will go well and we’ll be able to go on next year.
Timothy L. Johnson is also expecting a positive outcome from the process, which school leader Steve Bollier described as straightforward and fair.
All the main pieces are in place. The thing we’re focusing most on is the academic piece, he said
Closing charter schools is rare for Ball State, but in 2005 it did close a former Fort Wayne charter, Urban Brightest Community Academy, for mismanagement.
Marra said Campagna Academy, a charter school in northwest Indiana, opted to close after the end of this school year based in part on some feedback and dialogue with the office. In 2007, Ball Sate closed Timothy L. Johnson’s middle school because of poor test scores, but the school has since been allowed to add middle school grades.
The renewal applications would be the appropriate time to ask for an expansion of the number of grades a charter offers or the number of sections per grade, Marra said. Charter schools project their growth five years out.
Bollier said Timothy L. Johnson expects slow growth, allowing for an additional 25 students a year with a maximum of 50 each year for the next five years.
Imagine MASTer Academy last year discussed a request to add a high school on the campus but scrapped the idea for this renewal cycle.
We’re definitely looking at it for the future based on parent requests, but at this point we wanted to focus on K-8, Cirullo said.