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State charter school board approves local school

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Charter School Board voted 5-1 Wednesday to approve a Carpe Diem Indiana charter school for Fort Wayne – with some conditions.

Most importantly, the school serving grades 6 through 12 must show evidence of enrollment by July 15 somewhere between the entity's "break-even" financial number and its goal of 130 students for the first year.

Bob Summers, CEO of Carpe Diem Learning Systems, said the break-even number is hard to calculate without knowing the philanthropic support the new school will receive, but it would likely be around 100 students.

"If we don't engage enough parents to enroll students we can't open," he said.

Indiana Charter School Board member Jamie Garwood, of Fort Wayne, supported the new school. The only member who voted no was Lawrence DeMoss.

Claire Fiddian-Green – executive director for the Indiana Charter School Board – said enrollment is a concern because there was a lack of "demonstrated demand" at Tuesday night's public hearing in Fort Wayne.

She acknowledged Carpe Diem focused first on securing a building before student engagement.

Fiddian-Green also said the Fort Wayne environment is challenging for charter schools, especially following the recent revocation of three charters authorized by Ball State University.

"There is tumult in the community," she said.

The board also required the new charter school to have its policies developed by April 1 and recruit a new board member from Fort Wayne by June 1.

Summers said he hopes to have a principal and that board member identified in the next three to four weeks. Marketing could start in a week.

Carpe Diem Indiana Inc., which operates a school in Indianapolis, has proposed to replicate its "personalized blended learning" model in Fort Wayne at 1025 W. Rudisill Blvd., a building on the former Taylor University campus.

The school model leverages technology to educate students. Students are taught using an "individual online curriculum," and their time is split between independent learning and collaborative workshops with teachers and classmates.

The charter's proposal expects 130 students in its first year of operation and 13 teachers. Estimates have enrollment growing to about 300 students after three years with 15 teachers. The maximum number of students the school could accommodate would be 600.

Garwood said she was skeptical of the online component before visiting Carpe Diem's Indianapolis school Wednesday morning to see it in action.

"Seeing it is completely different than reading the application," she said.

Usually when approving a "replication" application – a new location for an existing successful school – the board would like to review testing data.

But the Indianapolis location has only been open since August. The students' progress on other national tests, though, show the school will meet its goals for performance growth, Fiddian-Green said.

Several board members who did not attend the public hearing in Fort Wayne asked for a summary of the opposition, which was described as distrustful of charter schools in general and defensive of Fort Wayne Community Schools.

"(The hearing) was a charade," said Fort Wayne Community Schools board President Mark GiaQuinta. "Clearly the decision was made before the hearing."

GiaQuinta said it was clear from the lack of support for the charter at Tuesday's hearing that the school did little research into the local community and school system to gauge whether or not parents and students are interested in the school's model.

"It's discouraging for me that we elect people into office who are unwilling to visit our schools to see the positive changes we're making," GiaQuinta said. "It's difficult as a community volunteer to fight this fight, day in and day out, but we're going to fight because that's how deeply we believe in it."

Sarah Janssen of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.