A school that helped lead the blended learning movement in Indianapolis lost its charter today.
The Indiana State Charter Board voted 5-1 not to renew the charter for the Meridian campus of Carpe Diem, a charter school that opened on the near north side in 2012. The school has struggled with academic problems, low enrollment and financial instability.
But what’s next for Carpe Diem is uncertain: The network runs two other Indianapolis schools, and their charters are not up for renewal for several years. Carpe Diem leaders had proposed consolidating all three schools into the Meridian campus to save money. Now, they will work with board staff to come up with another plan that could relocate or close the remaining schools.
Carpe Diem Meridian opened amid some fanfare in 2012. The campus was one of several new Indianapolis schools that were beginning to seriously rely on blended learning, where students spend significant portions of their class time working on computers. Education leaders hoped the model would allow the school to tailor instruction to each student’s needs and cut down costs by increasing the number of students each teacher could educate to as many as 60.
The network was founded by Rick Ogston in Yuma, Arizona, where its blended model showed strong results. But when it opened campuses in Indiana, Ohio and Texas, it grew too fast too soon, leaders say.
“We should never have scaled when we did,” Ogston said. Expanding the network too quickly “led to underenrollment in all three of the schools.”
The Meridian campus has capacity for 300 students, but it currently enrolls about 120 students. The network also shifted the students from its Shadeland school to the Meridian campus this year due to low enrollment. (The schools remain nominally separate, although they share a campus and principal.) The three campuses educate about 320 students in total.
With low enrollment has come financial problems, and the schools are struggling to pay for buildings and operation costs.
“The big issue here is the financials,” said board member Gretchen Gutman. “You’ve got 22 graduates, and right now you’ve got 16 recruits, so you’re not even treading water at this particular point in time.”
But while financial concerns are among the most urgent problems facing the Indianapolis Carpe Diem schools, they have also struggled academically. The Meridian campus currently has a C on the state accountability system, after two years of D grades. The other two schools have not yet gotten grades from the state.
The Carpe Diem board chair Jason Bearce said the schools have a plan for turnaround. Last year, they fired the company that had managed the schools and brought back Ogston, who had helped found the schools.
“I think that the Indianapolis area is better off with a Carpe Diem than without it,” Bearce said. “There was a period of time there when I started to question whether that was the case. … (But) I feel like we are on a positive trajectory.”
The state board members were strongly supportive of the steps the school leaders have taken to improve the Indianapolis campuses. But it was not enough for them to reauthorize the Meridian campus, and it is unclear what will come next for the other schools.
“It’s heartbreaking that we have to make such as hard decision,” said board member Virginia Calvin. “It is our job to hold you accountable.”