Indy K-8 charter school gets approval to open, location unknown

The Indianapolis Charter School Board approved the creation of a new elementary-middle school Tuesday that its leaders hope will open next year though a location is unclear.

Engaged Community Schools plans to enroll 450 students in grades K-8 in its first year and offer a project-based learning curriculum, and emphasize building foundational math and reading skills. The most recent results of Indiana’s standardized test showed achievement gaps for low-income students and Black students in Marion County, and overall scores remain far below the statewide average.

Brandon House, school founder, wants to negotiate a partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools to restart a failing school in the district. His submitted application focused on the IPS district and specifically the midtown neighborhoods of James Whitcomb Riley School 43.

But as IPS leaders prepare a plan to address underused schools, academic performance and other challenges, the possibility of those agreements in the future are unknown. House also said his focus on School 43 was one of multiple ideas.

“I am willing to serve anywhere,” said House, who previously led the Young Audiences Charter School in New Orleans, and before that was a teacher in IPS and Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township.

If a deal with IPS is not an option, House said, he will plan to open as an independent charter school and possibly co-locate in the building of another established school or in a different township. This would be the first Engaged Community Schools to be established.

The staffing plan for the school’s target enrollment includes 36 instructional staff, including four teachers for students with special education needs.

The charter board meeting voted 5-0 to approve the charter application during a public at the City-County Building. Two board members were absent and two board seats remain vacant this year.

“We are going to need evidence, because it sounds really, really good but you are going to have a lot of kids, that are going to need to catch up, but that may slow down the fun stuff,” board chairman Steven Stolen told House. “So our job will be to really review that and look at making sure we are not just trying to be adequate.”

Charter schools are public schools that are granted a contract to operate by one of several authorizers in Indiana, including the Indianapolis mayor’s office. Charter schools receive direct per-student funding similar to traditional school corporations and are eligible to receive additional per-student grants. But they don’t receive property tax funds to cover transportation or facilities.

Charter schools that partner with IPS are eligible to receive some property tax funds through a contract with the district.

House designed the plan for Engaged Community Schools as part of a fellowship with The Mind Trust, the local education reform organization. The focus of the fellowship is for educators to create charter school models that are approved for various types of partnerships with the Indianapolis Schools Board to operate independently within the district.

Contact WFYI education editor Eric Weddle at [email protected] or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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