Officials from three local charter schools were surprised to learn Tuesday that their charter renewals were denied by Ball State University.
This was kind of a shock to us, said the Rev. Mike Nickleson, board president of Timothy L. Johnson Academy.
Ball State announced it will no longer authorize Imagine MASTer Academy, Imagine Schools on Broadway and Timothy L. Johnson Academy, effective June 30. The three local charters were among seven charters across the state whose charters were not renewed, including an Indianapolis Imagine school, Imagine Indiana Life Sciences Academy-East, according to a prepared statement.
Charter schools use taxpayer money but operate independently of public school districts.
Ball State, the authorizer of 42 charters across the state, revamped its renewal process this year, raising standards for governance, finance and academic achievement. Twenty charters were notified of their status Tuesday. Only four charters were granted five-year contract renewals. The remaining charters were granted three-year extensions with performance conditions, and two withdrew their requests for renewal.
Schools have 10 business days to notify Ball State if they will appeal the decision.
Letters were sent home with students from all three schools Tuesday, and Imagine also called parents at home using its automated system.
Based on meetings with Ball State officials as recently as two weeks ago, Nickleson said Johnson Academy officials and the board believed its charter would be renewed or extended.
Imagine Schools Inc. Regional Director Rachel Cirullo also said the school didn’t expect the university to close its two Fort Wayne charters.
They didn’t give us any indication prior to (the announcement), she said. The options were a three-year extension, a five-year renewal or closure, and they never gave us any indication that (the decision) would be closure.
But according to Ball State, each school has had at least three meetings about the data used to make a decision about the renewal.
None of these schools should be surprised, said Bob Marra, executive director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State. We’ve advanced through methodical and iterative steps over the last two years to develop a framework that we believe will drive strong performance in our charter schools. And we’ve been transparently communicating with the schools about it since the summer.
Non-renewals were handed down based on academic performance and a failure to demonstrate that improvements could be made, according to Ball State’s prepared statement.
While we prefer to see these schools succeed, we have determined that their current success or progress isn’t sufficient for seven of our schools, Marra said in the statement. While I understand it may cause some short-term difficulty for families, it is a decision made in the long-term best interests of their students.
All three of Ball State’s Fort Wayne charter schools fared poorly under the state’s most recent accountability system that assigns A-F letter grades to schools. Both Imagine schools received Fs, and Timothy L. Johnson earned a D.
Nickleson said he believed it was more an issue of direction.
I get the impression (Ball State) made a decision based on the direction they were going, and evidently we weren’t in that plan, he said.
He said Timothy L. Johnson has always focused on being a safety net for kids that have fallen through the cracks.
We’re dealing with students at the bottom of the net, Nickleson said. It takes longer for our students to reach higher test scores.
He said he hopes the school can continue offering its services to an underserved, higher-risk student population.
The respective boards of the Imagine schools will decide whether to move forward with an appeal, Cirullo said.
At this point, we’re looking at the appeal process and discussing our other options, she said.
Nickleson said an appeal is a high possibility for Timothy L. Johnson. He said in the event an appeal is denied, the school will search for a different charter authorizer.
We’re looking for partners for someone who believes what we believe, he said.
The other two charter schools in Allen County are Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy and Smith Academy for Excellence. They are authorized by the Indiana Charter School Board and Grace College.
When Fort Wayne’s other three charter schools were established, Ball State was among just a handful of approved authorizers.
Recent legislation established the Indiana Charter School Board, a statewide charter school board that can sponsor new schools and also allows 30 private, nonprofit four-year colleges to sponsor charters.
The Indiana Charter School Board has just launched its spring application cycle, with letters of intent due Feb. 1 and full proposals by March 15.
Claire Fiddian-Green, executive director of the Indiana Charter School Board, said nothing prevents any of the schools from seeking an alternate authorizer, but any authorizer will look carefully at the reasons why another authorizer did not renew a school.
Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.