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Monday, December 17, 2018 10:24 am

Local charter school must close at year's end

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy lost its charter, and must close at the end of the school year. 

The Indiana Charter School Board voted unanimously at an emergency meeting last week to shutter the six-year-old school. 

That leaves about 120 students in grades kindergarten through eight looking for a new school next year and a handful of staff without jobs. 

Turnover, academic failure, an enrollment drop and management concerns since the conditional renewal of the school's charter in mid-2017 doomed the charter school. 

Indiana Charter School Board Executive Director James Betley acknowledged that the new board members and principal are dedicated and working hard to try to turn things around. 

"I don't know if they can or can't. At this point the way the school is, the way the law is, the uncertainty, we just felt it was too risky," he said, noting the board gave the school a chance with a conditional renewal and it didn't work. 

The Fort Wayne Urban League opened the school in August 2012 at 2313 S. Hanna St. At some point in 2015 the charter issued by the Indiana Charter School Board was transferred to a new entity – the Fort Wayne Urban League Center for Education. 

The school also recently moved to a new location at 7910 S. Anthony Blvd. 

Initially the school received a failing accountability grade but improved to a C for several years. It received an F in 2015-16 and in 2016-17. The latest A-F scores released this month also gave Thurgood an F. 

Betley said state law requires closure if a charter school receives four F's in a row. 

The school is also feuding with its management company – American Quality Schools, which has threatened litigation. 

Thurgood Marshall board members, principal and other supporters tried last Tuesday to convince the state charter board that it could transition to a self-managed model so there is more local control of the school. 

Principal Shadwaynn Curry took over in August just a week before school started. She told the board they are committed to academic improvement and understands the school must comply with certified teacher ratios. 

"I inherited the situation. I know what I need to do. I just need the time to do it," she said. "We are going to move forward. There's no where to go but up right? I just ask for the opportunity to make changes I know we can make." 

Thurgood Marshall Board President Sheila Moore begged the state board members to read the letters from staff, students and the community and not to make a quick judgment. 

"You are making decisions about those people," she said. 

Board member Mark GiaQuinta pushed for an immediate closure in January but the board chose instead to let the school finish the year. 

"It's not about us. It's about the kids. As much as these brilliant and big-hearted folks maybe can do this or maybe not…there is no need for this school in the FWCS district," GiaQuinta said. "I think it's time that we close the book on this." 

He said FWCS can mobilize and help these kids move to new schools immediately. 

Betley said there are other options for students beyond public school and the state board will reach out to local private and voucher schools as part of the closure process. He noted a mid-year closure would make it especially hard for young kids to adjust. 

Board member Gretchen Gutman said she is concerned about the school's ability to get through the spring semester financially. And she encouraged those in attendance to consider dissolving the board and reconstituting itself in a different way. 

nkelly@jg.net