Future of local charter school uncertain, dropped by Ball State

Published: Mar. 20, 2018 at 5:42 PM EDT
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A charter school in South Bend is trying to keep its doors open. NewsCenter 16 has learned Ball State University, the authorizer, is ending its charter with Xavier School of Excellence, due to the school failing to meet financial and academic performance standards.

"We stand ready to help them close the school or transition to another authorizer," said Robert Marra, the executive director of the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University.

According to Marra, student ISTEP scores at Xavier slumped in math, language arts, and in the combined math/language arts category. For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, 53.8 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 passed both math and English. The number dropped to 5.6 percent for the same category in the 2016-2017 school year.

"Ball State did terminate our charter, but we are going to continue to fight on," remarked Samantha Smith, the director of Xavier School of Excellence.

Already, the school has submitted an application to transfer authorizers, from Ball State to the Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB).

"It's a long process," said James Betley, the executive director of the ICSB.

Betley said state law allows charter schools that are closed or non-renewed, in the case of Xavier, to find a new authorizer. The prospective authorizer reviews the application and sends it to education experts outside of the state for input.

According to Marra, only one charter school in Indiana ever has changed authorizers due to non-renewal: Thea Bowman Academy in Gary. Likewise, Ball State ended its charter with Bowman Academy. The ICSB rejected Bowman's application. Nonetheless, Trine University became the new authorizer.

As in all transfer cases, the Indiana Board of Education has the final approval, if a new authorizer accepts an application.

"The (state) legislature did not intend for this to be common is my reading of the intent when that statute was written," said Betley, of the statute lawmakers wrote several years ago to prevent charter schools from "authorizer shopping."

"We continue to look for another authorizer. We’re going to continue to fight on. This isn’t stopping us. We are here for these students," said Smith.

Smith, the director of the school, informed parents in a January letter about Ball State terminating its charter with the school. To improve student test scores, she says struggling students are attending remediation classes.

Enrollment dropped from 258 students in the 2009-2010 school year to 170 students in the present school year, said Smith, citing data from the Indiana Department of Education. To boost enrollment, Xavier School of Excellence is holding open houses on the last Tuesday of every month. Also, the school hired a marketing professional.

"Xavier was put here for a reason. We’re confident, as I said before, that we’re not going anywhere," said Smith.