Members of the public will soon have the opportunity to share their thoughts on a charter school seeking to open in Hamilton County for the 2023-24 school year.
A public hearing on the proposed Valor Classical Academy is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 21 at Holiday Inn, 251 Pennsylvania Pkwy., in Carmel. Officials from Grace Schools Charter Authority, which Valor has requested to authorize its charter, will gather feedback at the meeting. Comments may also be submitted online through the end of the business day Sept. 23. GSCA is affiliated with Grace College, a private Christian college in Winona Lake.
In addition to providing a chance for members of the public to provide input, state law requires that the governing body of the school corporation in which the proposed charter school would be located must be given an opportunity to comment on how the charter school would affect it. CCS expects to have school board and district representation at the hearing.
“We believe it is essential that our community is aware of the proposed charter school and encourage residents to properly research this specific charter school and provide feedback in person or through the online form,” stated Emily Bauer, CCS director of community relations.
Because state funding follows pupils, CCS would lose approximately $6,800 for each student that leaves the district to attend Valor. CCS is already working to manage the effects of three consecutive years of declining enrollment. This school year, the student population dropped by approximately 200, and the district has fewer teachers as a result.
“CCS reduced the number of classroom teachers, through attrition, in proportion to the loss of enrollment,” Bauer stated.
Charter schools offer a tuition-free public education in a setting exempt from some state and school district regulations, giving them more autonomy than traditional public schools. They are held accountable by the organization – such as a governing body or Indiana Charter School Board – that authorizes them.
According to their charter application, Valor founders, who are parents of students who have attended public and private schools throughout Hamilton County, wanted to launch a new school because they have been “disappointed in the conventional public schools and other school choices in the areas of academic performance, strength of curriculum, and the schools’ lack of development of students as learners and leaders.” They aim for Valor to “provide a strong, cohesive curriculum and development in civic virtue, moral character, and the appreciation of the liberal arts.”
Valor has been accepted into Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, meaning it would receive free curriculum and other nonfinancial support from the program affiliated with the Michigan-based Christian liberal arts college. Hillsdale’s president, Larry Arnn, has made headlines in recent weeks for remarks made this summer that “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country” and that “education destroys generations of people … It’s like the plague.” Arnn later clarified that he meant “dumbest” as “ill-conceived” or “misdirected.”
Holly Wilson, a Valor co-founder, said the school is committed to opening as a member school of the Barney Charter School Initiative, which she said has provided “excellent and prompt consultation, helpful resources, and good guidance.”
She said the school is receiving a great deal of interest from prospective students and teachers.
“We know well the great value added by our excellent teachers here in Hamilton County. It’s heartwarming when we hear from these long-time local teachers who are eager to apply at Valor and teach in a system that has a transparent, content-specific, and guided approach to education,” Wilson said. “In fact, we’ve had so much interest from teachers, that we now have an interest form especially for teachers on our website.”
Valor is seeking to open in Carmel in the former Orchard Park Elementary building, which last served students during the 2020-21 school year. Valor is suing Carmel Clay Schools for use of the building, claiming the district did not follow a state law that requires vacated school buildings to be made available to charter schools for $1.
“We are aware of the Valor Charter School lawsuit to purchase the Orchard Park facility for $1,” Bauer stated. “The attorney general’s office has confirmed we have not violated any laws regarding charter schools, as the Orchard Park building is still in use, and we have plans for its continued use.”
CCS claims it is in compliance with state law because it is still using the building for training, storage and other purposes. The school board approved a resolution in June 2021 announcing its intentions to lease the space to Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation to develop a new park, but CCPR withdrew from the partnership in mid-May because of the pending litigation and lack of financial resources identified to redevelop the site.
Valor petitioned Hamilton County Superior Court Judge David Najjar on Sept. 9 for an expedited hearing, stating that Valor’s inability to confirm a physical location is negatively affecting its ability to recruit a head of school, engage potential students for enrollment, fundraise and obtain charter authorization. Najjar granted the motion and set the hearing for 1 p.m. Oct 24. An order on the motion for summary judgment will be issued before the end of the year.
GSCA has until Oct. 7 to determine whether it will authorize Valor as a charter school. If it chooses to do so, GSCA will be responsible for holding the new school accountable to fulfill its charter.
“The location of the proposed public charter school made by Valor Classical Academy identifies the location of the school to be in Hamilton County. As noted by the application, Orchard Park Elementary, in Carmel Clay’s school district is a potential location,” stated Tim Zeibarth, executive dean of the school of professional and online education at Grace College. “There are several other factors that contribute to the final authorizing decision. If fundamentally external changes arise in the future, we will adapt accordingly.”
Other charter schools authorized by GSCA are Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne; Dugger Union Community School in Dugger; Seven Oaks Classical School (also part of the Barney Charter School Initiative) in Ellettsville; and Otwell Miller Academy in Otwell.
Public feedback about Valor may be submitted to GSCA at grace.edu/about/charter-