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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 1:00 am

Horizon may lose new vouchers

School improving, but state says not enough

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – State Board of Education staffers have recommended against giving a failing Fort Wayne voucher school a waiver to avoid state consequences.

The board will consider the request from Horizon Christian Academy at today's meeting.

The school at 2000 N. Wells St. received an accountability letter grade of D for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, followed by an F in 2016-17.

State law says a voucher school receiving any combination of D's or F's in consecutive years cannot grant choice scholarships to new students until the school receives a C or better in consecutive years.

Lawmakers in 2017 enacted a law allowing the state board to grant a waiver – therefore allowing new voucher students to enroll – “if the eligible school demonstrates that a majority of students in the eligible school demonstrated academic improvement during the preceding school year.”

Horizon filed a request for that waiver in May after being informed it would not be allowed to accept new students under the voucher program.

The school was founded in 2009. Horizon has experienced exponential growth since its founding, according to a memo drafted by staffers on the waiver request.

Total enrollment grew from 35 students in 2009 to 294 students in 2015. Before the start of the 2016-17 school year, Horizon expanded its educational offerings and began enrolling students in grades 9-12.

Enrollment peaked during the 2016-17 school year, when Horizon's total enrollment reached 492 students spread across 14 grades,

Last year, 245 students were enrolled, and the school received $1.38 million in taxpayer funds to educate them.

According to Horizon's waiver request, the academy “serves primarily inner-city students from poor to lower-middle-class families.”

Horizon pointed out in the waiver request that when the school first opened, “the student body was made up of students that transferred from other Christian schools or where (sic) leaving a home-schooling environment.”

As time went on, the school experienced a change in the type of families and students it served.

Horizon suggests “there was a shift in the socioeconomic status, academic proficiency, and education backgrounds” of its student body, and its waiver request implies these were downward shifts, with many students arriving two to three letter grades below grade level.

In an emailed statement Tuesday night, Horizon's Tammy Henline and Anthony Beasley said the school has been successful in “taking at-risk kids and helping them achieve success.”

“The end result is what ultimately matters, and our end results are strong. Our students are going into colleges around the country and doing well,” the statement said.

“We currently have Horizon graduates studying Pre-Med, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Pre-Law, Computer Engineering and other disciplines at colleges such as Purdue, Rose-Holman, Anderson University, Oklahoma Christian and Central Lakes College.”

Horizon officials believe a waiver is “in order so that we can continue to demonstrate success with students who wish to become part of Horizon under the Choice Scholarship Program,” the email said.

The education board staff memo said an analysis of Horizon's student growth scores shows Horizon is able to demonstrate academic improvement with respect to some of its students. However, the number of students demonstrating either standard or high growth falls well below a majority.

“It is evident that Horizon is presently taking steps it believes will lead to academic improvement,” the memo says. “However, Horizon's performance does not establish that a majority of students demonstrated academic improvement during the preceding school year, ... and the waiver should not be granted.”

Some steps Horizon is taking include partnering with local educational centers and providers to offer students the services needed to succeed academically. A speech pathologist, tutors from Sylvan Learning Centers and a consultation teacher worked with 32 of the school's lowest-performing students.

In addition, Horizon has placed a new focus on data-driven instruction with teachers using formative assessment data to create differentiated lesson plans. Finally, Horizon has provided instructional coaching and professional development to teachers.

At one point, there were three Horizon Christian Academy schools in Fort Wayne, but now there is only one. Two of the schools opened originally as Imagine Inc. charter schools but were converted to voucher schools after Ball State University declined to renew their operating charters.

A charter school is a public school freed from some regulations to try innovative education approaches. A voucher school is a private school.

nkelly@jg.net