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Posted on Sat. Jun. 08, 2013 - 12:46 am EDT

Imagine schools to reopen, not as charters

FORT WAYNE — Charter school operator Imagine Schools Inc. will continue to run two schools in Fort Wayne, but they will become private schools and assume a different name.

Imagine announced Friday that its two Fort Wayne charter schools will reopen this fall as campuses of Horizon Christian Academy, a private, Christian school serving grades six through 12.

“We believe this is a solution that is good for students, good for families, good for our teachers and good for the community,” Rachel Cirullo, regional director for Imagine Schools, said in a written statement. “Imagine Schools thanks Horizon Christian Academy for stepping in to preserve school choice for the greater Fort Wayne community.”

Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway would have been forced to close June 30 when their charters expired with Ball State University. Ball State officials decided not to renew the charters of the two schools, along with five others across the state, citing poor academic performance and insufficient growth.

Imagine officials appealed Ball State’s decision, saying their performance this year would show strong improvement. The university upheld its decision to pull the charters.

Imagine officials had said the school would explore all options available to keep the schools open.

Families who intend to stay at the schools will be encouraged to apply for the state’s voucher program, which provides publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, according to a statement from Imagine.

Imagine will continue to operate the schools, Imagine spokesman Tim Phelps said. Horizon will pay Imagine for operation and facility support, and the terms of the agreement will not be made public, Phelps said.

The buildings where the two schools are located are both owned by subsidiaries of Imagine Schools, which collects rent from the schools for the spaces. MASTer Academy is at 2000 N. Wells St. in the former YWCA campus, and Imagine on Broadway is housed in an old church at 2320 Broadway.

Because the schools will cease to be charter schools, the loans they received from the state will be forgiven. Charters receive loan money from the state to help with startup costs because per-student tuition payments aren’t disbursed until midway through the school year. Charter schools pay back the loans and interest.

Under a new law passed in the previous legislative session, the state will pay the outstanding loan balance for charter schools no longer in operation. According to the latest available tax forms, the schools together owed $3.6 million to the state.

Phelps said the partnership helps maintain continuity for families.

Kathryn Skordes, whose daughter is in fourth grade at Imagine on Broadway, said she was thrilled to hear the news.

“I’m excited that we’re staying open and that I don’t have to resort to my backup plan,” she said.

She is also in favor of a faith-based program at the school. She plans to send her son to the school next year for kindergarten.

Parent Jennifer Turner isn’t as certain about the plan and said she needs more information to make a final decision for her son who will be in second grade next year. She said the price tag and the involvement of religion in the curriculum are two areas she wants to hear more about.

Phelps said a letter went home with Imagine on Broadway students Friday and a letter to MASTer Academy families will be mailed, as that school has let out for the summer. The schools plan to keep parents informed, Phelps said.

“Nothing is more important than getting the word out,” he said.

Phelps deferred questions about curriculum and tuition to Horizon. Principal Tammy Henline did not return a call requesting comment.

Horizon plans to hold open houses for enrollment during the summer to help families learn more about the schools and assist in applications for the voucher program, Phelps said.

Horizon Christian Academy, 3131 Maplecrest Road, was created by Henline, Keystone School’s former executive director. Keystone Schools closed because of financial problems in 2010. Keystone was founded by multimillionaire businessman Don Willis and closed because Willis’ foundation could not give as much support as it had in the past. Willis serves as a member of the Imagine MASTer Academy board.

No enrollment data are available for Horizon on the Indiana Department of Education website or the school’s website. Its ISTEP+ standardized test data showed that seven students passed the test last school year, a 33 percent pass rate. Last year the school graduated eight students, achieving an 80 percent graduation rate.

sarah.janssen@jg.net


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