School closings

3 high schools could close under Indianapolis Public Schools plan

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis Public Schools will close three high schools in the coming years if the school board approves a recommendation from the administration. But it’s not yet clear which schools face shutdown.

Decades of enrollment declines have left the district with high schools that collectively enroll less than half as many students as they were built to educate. District leaders have been contemplating closing schools for months, but the outlines of the plan are just beginning to take shape. There is already a plan in motion to convert John Marshall High School to a middle school this fall, leaving seven other high schools. A report from a district facilities committee released Friday calls for keeping four IPS high schools open — and shutting the doors at three unnamed schools.

A Chalkbeat analysis last July revealed that empty class rooms are driving up costs at IPS high schools, and the district anticipates that it would save as much as $4 million per year by closing three schools.

The recommendation marks the beginning of a planning process that is expected to last until the fall, when the board plans to vote on closing high schools.

The committee will present their recommendation to the board at a meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at School 15, 2302 E. Michigan St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

Read our prior coverage for more details:

IPS will host four community meeting before making a decision:

6-8 p.m. April 26
Glendale Library
6101 N. Keystone Ave.

6-8 p.m. May 1
Ivy Tech Culinary Center
2820 N. Meridian Street

6-8 p.m. May 11
Zion Hope Baptist Church
5950 E 46th Street

6-8 p.m. May 15
Haughville Library
2121 W. Michigan St.

School closings

Closing Indianapolis high schools? Parents and alumni plead ‘slow down’

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Many Indianapolis Public Schools parents and alumni were frustrated with the districts proposal to close three high schools.

An effort to ease tensions fell flat at Indianapolis Public Schools’ first public meeting about its plan to close three high schools.

“I think that we can all agree that under our new leadership team, with Dr. (Lewis) Ferebee at the helm, the district has actually made great strides both academically, operationally and financially,” said Denise Herd, the communications consultant brought in to moderate.

“Wouldn’t you all agree?” she said.

“No!” the crowded audience responded in near unison.

That rebuke set the tone for the meeting Wednesday night, where a crowd of about 150 people packed into a room at the Glendale Library to discuss a proposal to close three high schools in the district. IPS educators, parents, alumni and students spoke about frustration with the school closing process, the current administration and charter schools that draw students from the district.

The conversation was highly structured, with attendees divided into several groups to discuss the proposal. District staff, including Ferebee, and school board members moved among the groups, answering questions and listening in on conversations. But the crowd was so lively in its discussion, it was a struggle to hear people over the din of the packed room.

When group leaders shared their thoughts with the full audience after nearly an hour of conversation, the tone was frustrated. Most of the groups agreed that the process was moving too fast and didn’t include enough community input.

“School closings are huge in our community, and so what we need to do is make sure that we have the community involved,” said Carrie Harris of the Crispus Attucks High School Alumni Association. “Let’s not rush this thing.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Carrie Harris, right, was one of several Indianapolis Public Schools alumni who criticized the district proposal to close three high schools.

The meeting was the first of four the district plans on holding before the administration recommends in June which schools to close. The board is expected to vote on the proposal in September, with schools likely closing in 2018-2019. If the board goes forward with the plan to close three schools, the district would educate just over 5,000 students in the four remaining high schools — a shift that officials project would save the district more than $4 million per year.

Curtis Baker, a Broad Ripple High School graduate and parent, said that he understands the district needs to close schools because of low enrollment, but he wants to know how the money it saves would be used to improve education for students in the high schools that remain open.

“I think we’re kind of rushing this,” he said. “Maybe we’re bleeding money out, and I’m sure we are. But this is affecting a lot of people.”

Many of the audience members said they had deep loyalty to the IPS high schools they and their family attended. Cynnie Halsmer graduated from Broad Ripple High School, along with her mother and two sons. Her two daughters are currently enrolled at the school.

“Slow down,” she said. “Don’t do this to people.”

The district will hold three more community meeting before the administration recommends which high schools to close.

6-8 p.m. May 1
Ivy Tech Culinary Center
2820 N. Meridian Street

6-8 p.m. May 11
Zion Hope Baptist Church
5950 E 46th Street

6-8 p.m. May 15
Haughville Library
2121 W. Michigan St.

closing arguments

Three Detroit-area charter schools are set to close in June, but not all parents know

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Britney Love, a parent of a first-grader at Woodward Academy.

At least three Detroit-area charter schools will close in June after years of low test scores, leaving hundreds of families to scramble for new schools — including some who haven’t yet been notified.

The schools set to close include Woodward Academy, one of Detroit’s oldest and most established charter schools. It opened near downtown Detroit in 1996. Also closing are the Starr Detroit Academy, which is located just across the city line in Harper Woods but serves primarily Detroit children, and the Academy of International Studies in Hamtramck.

All three schools are being closed for academic reasons, said Janelle Brzezinski, spokeswoman for the charter school office at Central Michigan University, which oversees the schools.

“We’re committed to having high academic quality in our schools,” Brzezinski said. “We’ve always held our schools to a high standard.”

A fourth charter school overseen by Central Michigan is also in danger of closing. The Michigan Technical Academy in northwest Detroit was issued a “notice of intent” in February indicating that the university planned to revoke the school’s charter. The university is still reviewing the school’s response, Brzezinski said.

Michigan Technical Academy, which Chalkbeat featured last year, was among 38 Michigan schools threatened with closure by the state earlier this year for being in the bottom 5 percent of state school rankings for three years in a row. State officials have largely backed away from those plans for now, allowing districts to negotiate “partnership agreements” with the state to keep the schools open. Of those schools, 24 were in Detroit.

A press release from the state Education Department on Tuesday about the agreements said Michigan Technical Academy was being closed down by Central Michigan.

Brzezinski said the press release was not accurate.

“We were surprised by that statement,” she said.

The school closings are bound to surprise teachers and parents connected to the schools.

Families at the Starr Academy were notified that their school would close several weeks ago.  But at the Woodward Academy, where the school’s website as of Wednesday still said it was accepting applications for September, parents dropping their children off Wednesday morning said they had no idea their school would close.

“I’m kind of shocked because they had such a great program and the teachers are helpful. I’m actually very shocked,” said Porschua Reliford, 28, who just transferred her three kids into the school in January after a bad experience in a traditional district school.

“Now I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. Woodward is the third school that her two fifth-graders, Adrian, 10, and Lawrence, 11, have attended, she said. Her first-grader, Torence, 7, is on his second school.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Woodward Academy, one of Detroit’s oldest and most established charter schools, is set to close.

Britney Love, 32, said she was told by the school’s principal just three weeks ago that the school would not be closing.

She was alarmed to hear a different report Wednesday morning.

“I need to find out because I need to be looking for another school,” she said. She has a five year-old entering kindergarten in September and a six-year-old now in the first grade at the school.

“I don’t know what to do because my other school of choice was Starr Academy, and I heard they’re closing too,” she said. “I may have to change my work schedule and everything now.”

Parents just finding out now that they need a new school for next year are already at a disadvantage because many of the city’s top district and charter schools have already begun their enrollment processes. Many schools had application deadlines that passed weeks or even months ago.

“Currently, the timing of when closures are announced and how our city’s enrollment processes work are not in any way aligned to meet the needs of the students and families,” said Maria Montoya, director of Enroll Detroit, an organization that assists families in overcoming enrollment barriers from preschool to college.

“In our work supporting families in securing placements, we hear time and time again from families that it doesn’t make sense to close a school for failing to perform and then not have enough higher quality options available to take on these students,” Montoya said, adding that she’s hopeful that recent conversations will lead to improvements.

Georgia Hubbard, Woodward’s chief academic officer, said the administration planned to inform parents on Friday.

“It’s very upsetting for all of us,” Hubbard said, as she angrily asked a reporter to leave the school’s parking lot Wednesday. “We have 520 children. We have 65 staff people. We are very emotional and very concerned about why they would make such a decision when our school is improving. We are devastated by what they’ve done to us and we definitely need time to orderly communicate this to our parents.”

Woodward has seen some recent improvement in its test scores. On last year’s state exam, 4.9 percent of the school’s students scored high enough to be considered proficient in math and reading, compared to 2.8 percent the year before. But the school is still one of the lowest-ranked schools in the state. It was ranked in the fourth percentile among Michigan schools last year.

Charter school authorizers in Michigan have come under fire in recent years for not holding charter schools accountable for low performance.

The quality of charter schools in the state and how they’re overseen by universities was one argument against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during her nomination hearings. Critics charge that DeVos has used her wealth and influence to block regulation of charter schools in the state.

Dan Quisenberry of Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a charter school organization, say these closures are not a response to the political climate.

On the contrary, he said, authorizers routinely shut down low-performing charter schools. Three charter schools were closed in Detroit last year, two closed in 2015, three in 2014 and five in 2013, he said.

Closing a school is “a traumatic thing,” Quisenberry said. “No one is saying it’s not. But the goal is to get [students] in a better place.”

Quisenberry’s organization is working with Enroll Detroit to help parents at the Starr Academy learn about other options, he said. The group invited nearby schools that are ranked above the 25th percentile on state rankings to meet with Starr Academy parents.

“I understand the disruption this causes,” Quisenberry said. “The question isn’t, is this ideal? The question is, if kids are in a school that’s not performing for them, should we leave them there? That just doesn’t make any sense.”