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The fate of School 48 is on the line. IPS is betting its new principal can turn things around.

Students at School 48
Students at School 48
Dylan Peers McCoy

With a struggling Indianapolis elementary school facing possible closure or takeover, community members appealed to the state Tuesday — telling education board officials that the district deserves more time to turn around the low-performing School 48.

Another failing grade from the state could result in dramatic action, such as handing over control to an outside manager or shuttering the school altogether.

Despite School 48’s persistently bleak results on standardized tests, students, parents, neighbors, and community partners told Indiana State Board of Education officials they had faith that the north side school is on right track. Many credited the school’s new principal, Arthur Hinton, who has brought down class sizes, forged community partnerships, and improved the overall climate, speakers at a hearing about the school’s future said. The school enrolls just over 300 students, and about 83 percent of them are black.

Khaula Murtadha, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at IUPUI was one of several speakers who urged the state to keep the school under Indianapolis Public Schools management.

“I’m a resident of this community, and I want to see this school stabilized through the leadership and teachers who are here,” Murtadha said. “Every time we destabilize a school for black children, not only are we building the barriers to their learning, we are tearing down the opportunities for them to achieve.”

The school is not facing an imminent takeover. The hearing was a preliminary step — triggered when the school received its fifth F — to gather feedback in case the school gets another failing grade and becomes eligible for intervention.

In that case, the board could opt for less dramatic action, such as the district’s plan to keep School 48 in its “transformation zone.” The zone is designed to provide dedicated support, as well as regular visits from a central office team, to struggling Indianapolis Public Schools. School 48 has been in the zone since it was created over three years ago.

In recent years, the district has typically taken the dramatic step of handing management of schools facing possible state intervention to outside charter operators. So far School 48 has avoided such a restart.

Although Principal Hinton, who has led School 48 since July 2017, drew wide support at Tuesday’s meeting, his transition was rocky. In his first year, the school posted some of the district’s lowest passing rates on the state math and English tests. There were also problems with teaching vacancies in the 2017-2018 school year, said Brynn Kardash, the district’s executive director of schools for the transformation zone. This year has been better — with teaching positions filled and a culture of hard work, she said.

“When I have an opportunity to come in, I don’t ever see a person not talking with a child or not working with a child,” Kardash said. “There is constant work taking place, and I think that is a huge support for the school.”

With the help of money the school receives through the transformation zone, Hinton hired two extra teachers, thus reducing class sizes.

Ashia Cook, whose daughter has attended School 48 for four years, said the school has never felt like a failing school to her. But she’s noticed an improvement as her daughter’s class size dropped from close to 30 students to fewer than 20. Students get more one-on-one attention, and it’s easier for them to build relationships with the teacher, she said.

“I know on paper it says an F,” Cook said. “But in reality, the teachers, the students, and everyone is hard working. It’s not an F whatsoever.”

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