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Still-troubled Arlington High School at center of state board debate this week

Arlington High School has had perhaps the bumpiest ride of the five Indiana schools taken over by the state in 2012 for persistently low test scores, and it might be about to return to a starring role in the state’s education policy debate this week.

Arlington was taken away from Indianapolis Public Schools after six straight F-grades and turned over to be run by a charter school network. Then the network abruptly pulled out halfway through its five-year contract. So the state gave Arlington back to IPS this year, sort of.

The school isn’t quite all the way back with IPS because the Indiana State Board of Education reserved the right to take it away again if things go badly. When IPS officials come before the state board on Wednesday, their report will come in the wake of recent news stories that IPS has struggled to maintain discipline.

So the discussion could get interesting.

Arlington was the first school taken over by the state that has since been returned to be managed again by its home district. Although IPS controls the school’s day-to-day operations, the state board retains oversight. Stan Law, formerly principal at Shortridge High School in IPS, is now Arlington’s principal.

He took over after three years of outside management by Tindley Accelerated Schools, a charter network known for high test scores centered in the nearby neighborhood known as The Meadows.

Tindley shocked state board members when it suddenly said it wanted out of its agreement to manage the school last summer, arguing the school became too expensive to run. Arlington’s student enrollment in grades 7-12 has declined for years, bottoming out at 317 students last year in a school built to hold up to 2,500.

Scores on Arlington’s high school end-of-course exams eked up to 35.5 percent passing both English and Algebra 1 in 2014, but had been below 30 percent in the four years before Tindley took over. At its lowest, just 10 percent of students passed in 2010. Last year 45 percent of students in Indianapolis Public Schools and 72 percent of students statewide passed both tests, which are required for graduation, on their first try.

Since IPS retook management of the school, WFYI’s Eric Weddle has reported serious difficulties maintaining discipline at the school. Weddle is spending time each week at Arlington this year. It has led Law to call for more staff to be placed at Arlington to provide extra support and made the school a top concern for the Indiana Department of Education.

The board will also hear updates on other schools taken over by the state and run by charter school groups. Donnan Middle School, Howe High School and Manual High School were turned over to Florida-based Charter Schools USA in 2012.

This is the first year of a new plan between CSUSA and IPS at Donnan. The two agreed that students in grades K-6 would be added at the middle school as long as IPS gets to share oversight. IPS and CSUSA made use of a 2013 law that gave the district special flexibility to partner with outside companies to manage its schools. The state board approved their joint contract last year.