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IPS Releases Plan for Emma Donnan, Howe and Manual

Community meeting press conference.

Indianapolis Public Schools laid out its plan for Emma Donnan Middle School, Emmerich Manual High School and Thomas Carr Howe Community High School during a press conference on Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Central Library. The three former district schools were taken over by the state in 2012.

IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson and Michael O’Connor, president of the IPS Board of School Commissioners, were joined by leaders from Christel House Academy, Adelante Schools and Phalen Leadership Academies — all who are part of the district’s plan and ready to serve as school operators under IPS’ Innovation Network Model.

But first, the Indiana State Board of Education will vote on the future of Emma Donnan, Manual and Howe during a meeting on Wednesday Jan. 15.

Options could include:

  • Returning all three schools to IPS.
  • Allowing Florida-based Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) — which has been operating the schools since 2012 — to continue to operate them for another year in turnaround status without a charter. (Its current contract ends in June 2020.)
  • Closing the schools.

IPS is hoping its plan for the schools will be enough to show the SBOE that returning the schools to the district is the right thing to do for students, families and the school communities.

“There’s an urgency to make a decision, an explicit one, next week because the longer the decision is prolonged, the shorter time span you have to engage families and the longer you put those families in a place of limbo and ambiguity,” said Johnson.

“It is our hope that the State Board of Education is able to see and appreciate the work that Indianapolis Public Schools has done to ensure that we are able to serve our entire family of schools with high-quality partners, like the ones at this table, and that they will make the decision to return all three schools back to Indianapolis Public Schools.”


IPS and Christel House Academy (CHA) have already reached an Innovation Network School agreement to serve both the current Manual students as well as transition the Christel House Academy South location and Christel House DORS South, an adult dropout recovery high school, to the Manual facilities.

The namesake of Manual will remain prominent in the school name, honoring historical legacy. Manual students can graduate with a Manual diploma and Christel House will offer interviews to all current staff with the goal of hiring as many as possible to provide continuity.

Bart Peterson, president and CEO of Christel House International, touted CHA’s college and career program, which follows students five years after graduation.

“We support them as they graduate from high school, through four years of college and their first year into the workforce — or whether they choose a two-year degree, obtain certification or simply go into the workforce right after graduation. We’re focused on their success as adults and making the transition not just through K-12 school but beyond into adulthood and a productive career,” he said.

There are several other factors that led to the partnership with Christel House Academy, including:

  • Graduation rates that exceed Manual’s by more than 20 percentage points.
  • Proficiency rates on ISTEP 10+ that outperform Manual’s in all subjects, and nearly double in ELA.

Partnering with IPS would also bring two iconic southside schools together and allow CHA — which has been on city’s southside for 18 years — to expand its program by serving more students.

“All of this is possible because there is a new IPS, an organization and district that is collaborative with visionary leadership,” said Peterson. “The State Board of Education has a very big decision to make on Wednesday and our message is very simple: ‘If given the opportunity and if the school is returned to IPS, Manual has a very bright future.’”

On Saturday, the IPS Board voted to approve a five-year Innovation contract for Christel House to operate Manual — if returned to the district.


Adelante Schools and Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA) are being considered as potential partners to serve Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School as a full K-8 school. IPS has designed a community engagement process that allows families and other stakeholders to have input in the partner selection.

Both Phalen and Adelante have a proven track record of student success.

Phalen, which is an Innovation partner for two current IPS schools (Phalen Leadership Academy @ Francis Scott Key 103 and Phalen Leadership Academy @ George H. Fisher 93) has strong results increasing ISTEP proficiency at restart schools, and some of the strongest growth in the district.

“Phalen Leadership Academies has been in Indianapolis for the last four years and we are thrilled to partner with the Indianapolis Public Schools district at two of our schools. Because we are an established organization, it makes it very easy to transition into a school,” said Nicole Fama, regional director at Phalen, who noted that the school has established strong athletic and STEM programs and afterschool activities, and a new performing arts center on the city’s eastside.

“If given the opportunity, Phalen looks forward to extending our partnership with IPS,” she said.

Adelante Schools, co-founded by Eddie Rangel and Matthew Rooney, are known for their gains in student test scores. As educators, Rangel and Rooney have amassed a long list of academic accomplishments, including a 100-percent IREAD-3 pass rate for two consecutive years and ISTEP pass rates 10 points above the state average for Math ILEARN.

Adelante’s model is focused on two pillars:

  • Providing all students with rigorous, grade-level academics.
  • Developing and supporting world-class teachers.

“All kids deserve research based, rigorous, culturally-relevant curricula and data driven instruction. All teachers deserve regular feedback, personalized coaching and the resources needed to become the key to student success,” said Rangel, adding that they want to preserve the historical legacy of Emma Donnan and work in solidarity with the community to ensure it continues to be an anchor for the south side.

After a series of community meetings and information sessions to give students and families a chance to meet the applicants and provide feedback, IPS will select a partner for Emma Donnan in early February. This will ensure a level of stability for current students and staff.


Howe, which serves Grades 7-12, will be closed to students for the 2020-21 school year while the district, through the Howe Reuse Committee, reimagines the future of the school site. The committee will use the next year to strategically plan the best use for Howe, ensuring that feedback from a variety of stakeholders is included.

Commissioner O’Connor, whose district includes Howe, will sit on the committee.

On Saturday, Board commissioners voted (during their winter retreat) to give Howe students guaranteed enrollment into:

  • Four IPS-managed high schools (Arsenal Tech, George Washington, Shortridge and Crispus Attucks)
  • Harshman Middle School, Henry W. Longfellow Medial/STEM Middle School, or in the IPS middle school based on their home address.
  • Thrival Indy Academy, an IPS Innovation high school that includes a study abroad component.

“We are committed to providing students with the smoothest transition possible,” said O’Connor.

The initial decision for Howe was not to displace students. IPS did engage in conversation with several Innovation partners for the school, but did not find a match sustainable and robust for the long-term in the timeframe given.

The district will also do outreach to current Howe staff pending the January 15 decision about employment opportunities with IPS.

Johnson said what the district has sought to do over the past several months, to the extent possible, is make clear what its future plans would be if the SBOE returned Emma Donnan, Howe and Manual to IPS.

“We’ve found great partners who we believe in their ability to create an excellent educational experience for students,” said Johnson. “Families can have security in knowing that if the schools were to returned to the district, we have a plan with strong partners to continue to accelerate the achievement of students.

O’Connor said he’s confident the district is ready to bring Emma Donnan, Manual and Howe back into the IPS family of schools.

“I think if you look at where IPS was in 2012 (when the state takeover of the three schools happened) and where IPS is today, families should rest well assured that we’ll take care of students,” he said. “Our first and foremost priority is what’s in the students’ best interest.”

The State Board of Education meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, in Room 211 at the Indiana State Library, 315 W. Ohio St.

For more information about the state takeover timeline for Emma Donnan, Manual and Howe, click here.