Emma Donnan Process Update

On Nov. 21, the IPS Board of School Commissioners voted to not continue in partnership with Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) and its affiliated organizations, ReThink Forward Indiana and Noble Education Initiative, to manage Emma Donnan Elementary School.

The district holds high expectations for academic rigor, financial and enrollment sustainability and governance health for its Innovation Network Schools. Through an extensive Renewal School Quality Review (RSQR) process to evaluate these systems, IPS has determined it is not in the best interest of the students served in the Emma Donnan community, nor the district as a whole, to continue in partnership with the current operator of the school.

IPS will ask the State Board of Education to return Emma Donnan Middle School to IPS so the district can seek a path forward for the K-8 school.

This page will provide news and updates for Emma Donnan families, staff and the community throughout this process.

Board Presentation

To access the Emma Donnan Elementary School Innovation Agreement Non-Renewal presentation, click here

Parent Feedback Form

IPS is asking for input from Emma Donnan parents as the district seeks a path forward for the K–8 school. Click the button below to access the form.

Children in classroom

Staff & Community Meetings

Indiana State Board of Education (SBOE) 
Meeting – Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 9 a.m.
Indiana Government Center South, Conference Room B, 302 W. Washington St.

The SBOE will consider a resolution to allow CSUSA to apply for the charter for Emma Donnan K-8 to continue operating after its current contract expires in June 2020.

IPS will ask the SBOE to return Emma Donnan Middle School to IPS and share more information about the district’s plans for operating the entire Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School.

Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB)
Meeting – Friday, Dec. 13 at 11 a.m. 
Indiana Government Center South, Conference Room A, 302 W. Washington St.

The ICSB Board will vote on whether to give charters to CSUSA for Emma Donnan K-8, Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe high schools.

Staff and community meetings will be updated regularly.

Emma Donnan Timeline

August 2012

The state took over Emma Donnan Middle School (Grades 7-8). Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) was chosen to operate the school.

Fall 2015

IPS launched Emma Donnan Elementary School (K-6) as an innovation charter school. CSUSA was chosen to operate the school.

June 2020

The state takeover of the school will end. IPS is asking the Indiana State Board of Education to return the middle school to IPS control.

June 2020

The 5-year innovation agreement with Emma Donnan Elementary School will be up for renewal. IPS administration recommended in November 2019 not to renew its innovation agreement with CSUSA.

Letters Sent to Families & Staff

Dear Emma Donnan Families:

On Nov. 21, the IPS Board of School Commissioners voted to not continue in partnership with Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), and its affiliated organizations ReThink Forward Indiana and Noble Education Initiative, to manage Emma Donnan Elementary School.

We hold high expectations for academic rigor, financial and enrollment sustainability and governance health for our Innovation Network Schools. Through our extensive Renewal School Quality Review (RSQR) process in evaluating all of these systems, we have determined it is not in the best interest of the students served in the Emma Donnan community, nor the district as a whole, to continue in partnership with the current operator of the school.

IPS is partnering with the community to ask the State Board of Education to return Emma Donnan Middle School to IPS so that we can seek a path forward for the K-8 school.

We are also asking for community input on what you are looking for in your school moving forward.

Our objectives include:

  • Finding a partner with strong local ties that is committed to Indy, has a track record of proven results and whose vision aligns with the input received from families.
  • Continued stability for families and students to the best extent possible.

Please regularly check the Emma Donnan Process Update page for notifications about family information sessions related to the transition and what it may mean for you and your student.

Dear Emma Donnan Staff:

On Nov. 21, the IPS Board of School Commissioners voted to not continue in partnership with Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), and its affiliated organizations ReThink Forward Indiana and Noble Education Initiative, to manage Emma Donnan Elementary School via non-renewal of the current K-6 Innovation Network Agreement.

We greatly appreciate your participation during the renewal visit in October. The visit day, combined with historical data and other factors, lead us to the decision that it is in the best interest of students, families and the larger school community for IPS to transition management of the school.

IPS is partnering with the community to ask the State Board of Education to return Emma Donnan Middle School to IPS so that we can work with community input to create a path forward for the school.

We are also asking for community and staff input on what you are looking for in the future of the school.

Our objectives include:

  • Finding a partner with strong local ties that is committed to Indianapolis, has a track record of proven results serving students of a similar demographic and whose mission aligns with the input received from families.
  • Continued stability for families and students to the best extent possible.

We want to make sure that the vision and mission of the new school partner is the best mutual fit. We encourage all staff members to apply with the selected school partner as they will be seeking to maintain as much teaching consistency as possible. All who apply will be invited to interview.

It is important to IPS leadership and to our school commissioners that you feel heard and have your questions answered. We know you are working hard on behalf of your students and that this will bring a temporary time of uncertainty.

Please regularly check the Emma Donnan Process Update page for updates on staff-focused information sessions, where IPS leadership can answer your questions and share any additional information as it becomes available.

Why does IPS want to dissolve its partnership with Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) as it relates to Emma Donnan?

We hold high expectations for academic rigor, financial and enrollment sustainability and governance health for our Innovation Network schools. Through our extensive Renewal School Quality Review (RSQR) process in evaluating all of these systems, we have determined it is not in the best interest of the students served in the Emma Donnan community nor the district as a whole to continue in partnership with the current operator of the school.

What will happen to Emma Donnan students during this process?

CSUSA will remain in place until June 2020. Any changes during this time will be of the current school operator’s choice. IPS doesn’t expect any disruption during this time.

What will happen to Emma Donnan staff and faculty during this process?

For the rest of this school year, CSUSA will remain in charge of the school and any staffing changes will be up to them. We want to make sure that the vision and mission of the new school partner is the best mutual fit. We encourage all staff members to apply with the selected school partner as they will be seeking to maintain as much teaching consistency as possible. All who apply will be invited to interview.

Will Emma Donnan Elementary and Emma Donnan Middle School remain open during this process?

Yes. Both schools will remain open through the end of the school year in June 2020. IPS intends to find a new path forward for the K–8 school, but first Indiana’s State Board of Education (SBOE) must return the middle school to IPS.

How long is the process?

A new partner will be selected and ready to assume operation of Emma Donnan K–8 when school starts in fall 2020. We will start to seek community input as soon as possible, beginning at the December 2 community meeting.

What will returning Emma Donnan Middle School to IPS accomplish?

It will allow IPS to operate the entire K–8 school with a new innovation partner.

Does IPS want Emma Donnan School to remain open?

Yes, IPS does not want the school to close nor do we wish to displace any students.

Will Emma Donnan Elementary School and Middle School be open to students for the 2020–21 school year?

The intent of IPS is that Emma Donnan does stay open. However, to ensure that it does, the SBOE must first return the middle school to IPS.

How can I provide my input/feedback on my and my child’s experience at Emma Donnan?

Community meetings will be held throughout this process. The first one is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 2 at The Tube Factory, 1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46203.

Parent feedback can also be provided via an online feedback form at myips.org/emmadonnanfeedback.

How can I advocate for Emma Donnan Middle School to return to IPS?

You can join us at the SBOE meeting at 9 a.m. Dec. 4, 2019, at the Indiana Government Center South, Conference Room B, 302 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46204.

How can I be confident that my child received the best education while at Emma Donnan? Will my child need to repeat any grades?

You should first make sure your voice is heard by attending meetings hosted by IPS and the SBOE. Sign up for public comment at the state board meeting and make sure you engage with the potential new partner to tell them what is important to you in a school.

We don’t anticipate that students would need to repeat any grades due to this transition.

When will we know when the final decision has been made?

We will know if the SBOE is going to return Emma Donnan Middle School to IPS on or before January 8, 2020. If the board votes to return the middle school to IPS, we hope to have a new leadership team in place in the early spring.

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IPS Superintendent: Charter Schools USA Fails to Meet Partnership Standards

Note: This column by IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson originally appeared in the Dec. 1 edition of The Indianapolis Star.

A relentless pursuit of excellence is the foundation of our mission to provide families with access to quality education. We set high standards for everyone who works for, and with, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). Our students deserve it, and our culture demands it.

The district’s Portfolio of Schools Model features collaborations with several conscientious and strong education partners. All of these partners know they will be held to the highest possible standards while also participating in a continuous and exhaustive review process.

Indianapolis Public Schools has high expectations for the academic rigor, financial transparency, enrollment sustainability and overall governance health for Innovation Network Schools.

Unfortunately, Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), our Innovation Network School operator at Emma Donnan Elementary School, has failed to perform its responsibilities to our standards.

Despite the investment during the past several years by IPS, leveraging both the time of our staff and other district resources, the Innovation school partnership with CSUSA for Emma Donnan Elementary School was terminated in November by a unanimous vote of our Board of School Commissioners.

Please note: Emma Donnan will not close, and IPS is committed to its future. In fact, we stand ready to initiate the process of selecting a new Innovation school partner with the input of the Emma Donnan community as part of this process.

In order to begin executing this process, in the coming week, we will ask the Indiana State Board of Education to place all grade levels of the school under IPS’ purview so we can seek a path forward for excellence.

As a district, it is our responsibility to provide clarity to students, parents and faculty about this change and why it is necessary. We understand they are caught in the middle, but we cannot abrogate our duty to ensure our schools are operated by partners who operate with honesty and integrity.

This is the first Innovation agreement where the operator’s performance has merited termination. Make no mistake, Indianapolis Public Schools will hold our partners accountable and, if required, we will sever ties in the best interests of our students.

The facts are that CSUSA’s tenure at Emma Donnan is littered with high staff turnover, declining enrollment and a proposed future governance structure that was not clearly communicated or understood even by members of that proposed future team.

The past few months have seen tremendous progress in the district’s investment in the future not only of our students, but also our workforce.

Recently, and as a result of tremendous community support for two successful referendums in 2018, we awarded our teachers the largest pay increases in the history of IPS. These raises, along with investment in stronger security measures, represent promises made and promises kept.

We made our case to the voters based on a renewed strength in the district, a stronger financial model and improved academics. Our Innovation Network School initiative is an important part of all these positive changes and is an exceedingly popular offering in our education portfolio.

Our IPS Board of School Commissioners has acted to ensure our standards for our partner schools are met. Our hope is that other entities with impending decisions on the horizon will do the same.

Our team remains extremely concerned about the future of Thomas Carr Howe High School and Emmerich Manual High School. While I don’t doubt that there are hard-working staff serving the students who attend those schools, what is also true are the very real questions that exist about the actual performance of those schools based on recent revelations regarding the graduation cohorts of these schools. Additionally, there remain significant questions regarding the legality of CSUSA being able to buy or rent those facilities for $1 if granted charters. I will not accept putting Indianapolis Public Schools in a precarious financial circumstance that we are currently working diligently to address.

We know and understand deeply that schools are such valuable parts of our community and, if returned to our IPS family, we would explore all viable opportunities for these schools and their students.

As superintendent, I take seriously the responsibility of ensuring IPS is an excellent family of schools that offers students the very best foundation to live successful futures. We work relentlessly toward that vision every day, and we believe we will realize it with strong and high-quality partners alongside us. It is our belief that Charter Schools USA simply does not meet that standard.