Future of Schools

Pence hails charter schools, vouchers at school choice rally

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence speaks to private and charter school students this morning as Herron High School students look on.

Gov. Mike Pence told a gathering of children from charter and private schools today that education can take them where they want to go in life, as it did for his family.

A day at the Statehouse for schools that participate in school choice programs began with a morning rally with Pence as the featured speaker. He told kids seated in chairs and on the floor in front of the podium about his Irish immigrant grandfather who came to the U.S. and worked as a bus driver. Two generations later, his grandson is Indiana’s governor.

Programs that let families choose schools they believe are the best fits for their children can help today’s families achieve all they want in life too, Pence said.

“Whatever that little dream is in your heart — from this small town boy from Southern Indiana whose grandfather immigrated to this country — if you can dream it, you can be it,” he said. “Grab your dreams. Live your dreams. Just live them here in Indiana.”

It was the second Statehouse education rally in a week. Monday’s rally in support of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz had a decidedly different flavor, with sharp criticism of Pence over bills he supports that would effectively remove Ritz as chairwoman of the Indiana State Board of Education.

Since the start of the legislative session in January, Pence and his lieutenants have battled intensely with Ritz her team at the Indiana Department of Education over the direction of education policy in the state.

But there was no talk of Statehouse political debates this time. The focus was squarely on school choice.

“Children in this state ought to be afforded opportunities for quality education,” Pence said. “Those decisions should be made in the best interests of our kids, and those decisions should be made by parents.”

The rally, sponsored by Hoosiers For Quality Education, evolved from what served in recent years as an annual Statehouse pep rally in support of school choice programs such as charter schools and the state’s private school tuition voucher program. About 300 people attended, including students and teachers from private and charter schools. Kids spent the rest of the day in lessons at the Statehouse designed to connect to Indiana academic standards.

Bills under debate this month in the legislature would provide more funding and flexibility to charter schools.

Erika Haskins, a school leader at one of Goodwill Industries’ Excel Center adult charter high schools, said publicly funded but privately managed charter schools like hers fill gaps for students in need.

Excel Centers primarily try to help students who dropped out of high school complete their educations so they can attend college or get better jobs.

“My students slipped through the cracks at some point in time,” Haskins said. “Now they are fighting twice as hard for social and economic mobility. We need to change the game for all students and parents so attending quality school is feasible for all students.”

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”