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With IPS support, former principal pitches a charter middle school

Students use computers at Key Learning Community in 2014.
Students use computers at Key Learning Community in 2014.
Scott Elliott

This was a first: at Monday’s Indianapolis Charter School Board meeting, a top Indianapolis Public Schools official spoke in support of approving a new Indianapolis charter school.

The yet-unnamed charter school would the combine resources of IPS and an existing charter school. The spark for the idea comes from Sheila Dollaske, the former principal of an IPS school.

Dollaske, who led Key Learning Community on the city’s West side for IPS, said that part of town needs a high-quality middle school.

Her plan is to found a Goodwill Industries-supervised charter school in grades 6 to 8 in an IPS school building to be named later. The school will also include a new Excel Center adult charter high school for dropouts. Dollaske has been developing the idea with the help of a fellowship from The Mind Trust. She hopes it will be housed in an IPS school building.

The school will aim to support families broadly, helping parents earn high school diplomas while their children attend middle school.

“We really believe in the idea that if community members, schools and families partner together it can be transformational,” Dollaske said.

IPS for years viewed charter schools combatively as competitors, but over the past year the district has moved toward partnering with them. Aleesia Johnson, the district’s innovation chief, praised the proposal.

“We believe in the school she is building,” she said.

That brought a surprised response from board chairman John Mutz.

“In all the years I’ve been here, I’m not sure I’ve heard a specific representative of IPS speak on behalf of a school,” he said.

Dollaske’s school was one of three charter school proposals the board heard Monday. It plans to vote on the plans on Dec. 3. The others are:

If approved at the next meeting on Dec. 3, all three aim to open in 2017.

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