School closings

As Indianapolis leaders choose which high schools to close, some campuses are in more danger than others.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
It would be a surprising move if IPS leaders decided to close the legendary Crispus Attucks High School.

As Indianapolis Public Schools leaders met with parents, students and alumni to discuss plans to close three so-far unnamed high schools, there was one question on everyone’s mind: Which of the district’s schools will be shut down?

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says leaders are looking for community input.

“No decision has been made at this point,” he said.

The district has outlined an expansive list of criteria to determine the fate of its high schools, covering everything from the academic offerings at each school to the number of parking spaces. An IPS committee recommended closing three of the seven high schools that will be in operation this fall.

But some schools are clearly in more danger of closing than others. Here are some factors that could help determine why each school might stay — or go.

Arlington High School

Reasons to keep: Arlington is in an unusual position that could spare it from closing. The school was taken over by the state in 2012, and only returned to district control because a charter operator withdrew in 2015. Although the school is managed by IPS, the district would need permission from the state to close its doors.

The school is supported by a passionate group of alumni and community members. Last week, the district held a meeting about schools closing just blocks away from Arlington in the basement of Zion Hope Baptist Church. The building was so crowded that some late arrivers were turned away.

With plans already underway to convert John Marshall High School to a middle school, closing Arlington would leave only one high school on the east side — Arsenal Technical High School. This fall, Arlington middle schoolers will move to Marshall, and high schoolers will move from Marshall to Arlington.

The Arlington building is in relatively good condition (and includes a planetarium), but the district could potentially shut down the high school and move another school — such as John Marshall Middle School — into the building.

Reasons to close: Arlington has been getting low marks from the state for years, which led the state to take over the school, and the district may decide to pull the plug.

Even after the district moves the high school students from Marshall to Arlington, the building is expected to be less than half full.

Arlington is less than five miles from several charter and township high schools. That could be a bad sign, since it will struggle to attract more students with so much competition. But the district might choose to keep the school open to retain students who might leave IPS if Arlington closes.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 690
Percent full: 32 percent
State grade: F
Neighborhood: Northeast side

Arsenal Technical High School

Reasons to keep: If there’s one school that seems safe from closure, it’s Arsenal. It has more students than any high school in the district, and it is closer to full than any other school.

Arsenal also has several programs with strong academic reputations, such as the Math and Science Academy, that attract students to district high schools. Its sprawling campus also houses many of the district’s career and technical education programs — from culinary arts to advanced manufacturing — which have gotten renewed focus in recent years.

Arsenal costs less per student to run than almost any other high school in the district, according to an analysis last year. And if the campus housed more students, it would likely be even more cost effective because large schools nearly always cost less to run than small ones.

Reasons to close: If the district leadership decided to invest in smaller high schools — as was a national trend for a while — closing Arsenal might make sense. But given the current push to consolidate, closing the school would be a stunning move.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 1,808
Percent full: 60 percent
State grade: D
Neighborhood: Near east side

Broad Ripple High School

Reasons to keep: Broad Ripple is doing better academically than some IPS high schools, with a graduation rate of 89 percent, significantly above the district average.

The established arts magnet has passionate alumni, parents and students who show their support for the school vocally and often. At a meeting on the north side last month, families from Broad Ripple pled with the district to slow down the process.

The arts program is also a well-known and unique offering that could attract students to the district.

Reasons to close: The argument for closing Broad Ripple is all about money. It costs more per student to run than any other school in the district — in fact, an analysis last year found that Broad Ripple gets twice as much funding per student than Crispus Attucks High School.

One reason for that is simple: The building serves just a fraction of the students it was designed to house. That means higher costs per student for basics like heat and maintenance.

Closing high schools will increase enrollment at the remaining campuses, but because Broad Ripple is on the edge of the district and in an area near lots of school options, it could be hard to attract enough students to make good use of the vast building.

Finally, Broad Ripple is in a thriving neighborhood with a regular stream of new apartments and businesses. If the district closed the school, it is unlikely that the building would be derelict and selling it could be profitable.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 666
Percent full: 28 percent
State grade: C
Neighborhood: Broad Ripple

Crispus Attucks High School

Reasons to keep: Crispus Attucks is legendary in Indianapolis. Founded as the city’s first all black high school, it was a product of segregation. But its students and teachers thrived despite the oppressive forces that created it. That history, which was told in a documentary last year, could make closing the school politically toxic.

Attucks has other advantages too: It is centrally located, near the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a particular advantage for the medical magnet program, and it’s performing relatively well academically, with a graduation rate of 96 percent, well above the state average.

The financial calculations also look good for the school. A district analysis last year found that it costs less per student to run Crispus Attucks than nearly any school in the district.

Reasons to close: Attucks opened in 1929, is one of the older high schools in the district, and it could have repair costs. With its central location, it also could be an attractive building to sell. But given all the reasons to keep Attucks open, the school seems largely safe from closure.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 699
Percent full: 51 percent
State grade: C
Neighborhood: Downtown

George Washington High School

Reasons to keep: The George Washington community has been through the pain of closing already. After shuttering the school for five years, the district reopened it in 2000. At the time, advocates hoped it would be an anchor for the west side community.

Board member Diane Arnold, who graduated from George Washington, has said that dropout rates on the near west side spiked when the school was closed, and students were forced to take a long bus ride to Northwest.

The west side community has many advocates who continue to strongly support the school.

Reasons to close: Washington has struggled in recent years, both academically and culturally. Because it has gotten low marks from the state, the school is one of three district high schools that are getting extra coaching as part of a transformation zone, a form of state intervention. The school had some severe problems with student fights after a rotating series of principals, although the current principal is in her third year.

Washington also has the lowest usage rate among the high schools. Next year, the district expects the school to be just 21 percent full.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 403
Percent full: 21 percent
State grade: D
Neighborhood: Near west side

Northwest High School

Reasons to keep: Northwest has relatively high enrollment, with 739 students expected in the fall. Although it will have nearly twice as many empty seats as students, it is still closer to full than most IPS high schools.

The district is also planning to expand science and technology programs at the school. Next year it will begin offering Project Lead the Way advanced science courses. (The district eventually plans to offer PLTW at four high schools.)

Reasons to close: Northwest has struggled academically, and after persistent low grades from the state, it is also part of the state-funded transformation zone.

Like Broad Ripple, the school is on the far edge of the district close to Speedway and Pike Township schools. If the district closes the school, it could lose students to neighboring districts. But it would also be hard to attract enough students to fill the building.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 739
Percent full: 35 percent
State grade: D
Neighborhood: Northwest side

Shortridge High School

Reasons to keep: Shortridge has the highest state grade of any high school in IPS and the district has moved to make it a showcase in the last few years. The International Baccalaureate program moved into the Shortridge High School building in 2015, after the district relocated another magnet program to make space. The IB high school, a rigorous curriculum that offers college credit, aims to attract high-achieving students who often leave the district for high school. It is the only IPS high school that is getting a B or better from the state.

It serves as effectively a continuation of the popular Center for Inquiry magnet elementary schools, which also use the IB curriculum. And if the program is able to establish a reputation among more affluent families on the north side, it would help stem the tide of students leaving for private, charter and township high schools.

The building itself is beautiful and centrally located. Plus, Kurt Vonnegut graduated from the school.

Reasons to close: Shortridge has the lowest enrollment of any high school in the district, and it is one of the emptiest, with just a quarter of the students it could fit.

Closing the school could also be seen as smart politics. When the district leadership ousted the program that had been housed in the building to make way for the IB school it caused an uproar. Families who were upset about the decision said that it favored affluent white families (even though the IB program was very diverse). Preserving Shortridge while closing beloved schools that serve more students of color could cause a backlash.

By the numbers
Shortridge High School
Enrollment: 347
Percent full: 24 percent
State grade: B

John Marshall Middle School

This fall, the district plans to convert John Marshall to a middle school, moving high school students to Arlington. But the Marshall building will still be part of the high school planning process, and the district could decide to reconfigure the school once again. For instance, it could move the middle school students from Marshall to Arlington, and close the Marshall building.

School closings

IPS plan to keep students interested in school? Give them career training

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The IPS administration is proposing adding more career training programs to high schools.

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders have a new vision for the district’s high schools: converting each campus to a career academy.

The plan unveiled today would be part of dramatic reshaping of the district’s high schools, including closing several of the existing buildings. The new model would replace traditional neighborhood high schools, which draw students based on their addresses, with magnet schools that house several career or academic focus areas.

The academies are designed to keep students interested in school and give them the skills to find well-paying jobs or succeed in college after graduation. The focus areas were chosen because there is student interest and good jobs are available in Indianapolis.

The proposal is the first detailed outline of a vision revealed last summer by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. It would preserve the existing magnet programs in the district, such as the performing arts program at Broad Ripple High School, the medical program at Crispus Attucks High School and the International Baccalaureate at Shortridge High School. But it would also create seven additional focus areas based on student interest and the Indianapolis job market.

“Everything that we currently offer now will be on the table, but we will also be adding … career academies,” Ferebee said.

The proposed career academy focus areas are:

  • Health sciences;
  • Manufacturing, engineering and logistics;
  • Education;
  • Construction, engineering and design;
  • Business and finance;
  • Information technology; and
  • Military.

The administration has not announced where each academy will be housed, but Ferebee said the locations would be chosen based in part on how long bus rides would be.

The proposal is not guaranteed to become reality. When Ferebee floated the idea of career academies last August it received mixed feedback from school board members, who must approve the plan. The administration is expected to make a recommendation for which high schools to close and what academic programs to offer in June. The board plans to vote on a final plan in September.

Career academies are reminiscent of similar efforts in Indianapolis and across the nation. In 2005, IPS converted its high schools to small theme-based academies with the help of millions of dollars in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but soon abandoned the plans.

Career and technical education, or vocational schools, have a long history but they have been getting more attention in recent years. Nashville won national praise for converting its schools to career academies a decade ago, an example Ferebee cited as a model for Indianapolis last summer.

Call for quality

Down to two: University Prep no longer an option to replace low-performing Amesse Elementary

Students at University Prep Elementary's flagship school in Denver (Eric Gorski, Chalkbeat).

University Prep charter school is no longer in the running to replace Denver’s low-performing Amesse Elementary School, leaving another charter school and a proposed district-run school as the two applicants remaining.

Denver Public Schools staff found that University Prep’s plan for teaching English language learners did not meet the requirements of a court order dictating how such students must be taught in DPS. Its application “does not include a plan for Spanish literacy or an adequate ratio of Spanish-English instruction,” according to a presentation to the school board Monday.

A letter to the board co-signed by University Prep founder David Singer and Jennifer Holladay, executive director of DPS’s Portfolio Management Team, says University Prep will not move forward in the process of competing to replace Amesse, which is slated to close next year.

“We each regret that our teams did not engage in the detailed conversations necessary to ensure University Prep was well supported and prepared to develop and execute” a program to teach English language learners that would meet the requirements, the letter says.

In an interview Monday, University Prep’s Singer highlighted the network’s work serving English language learners at an elementary school “restart” it operates in Denver. At that northeast Denver school, 72 percent of students are English language learners, and internal assessments show those students are making rapid gains in reading and English language arts, Singer said.

“University Prep is deeply committed to serving English language learners,” he said.

Singer said the charter network recognizes that the model mandated by court order “is a different approach than our current efforts, and that such an approach requires time, energy, resources and a significant collaboration between University Prep, the district and any new community we serve … We are deeply committed to getting it right for all children.”

He said “increased communication between district and operator about expectations for this particular model” would help.

(Although University Prep did not withdraw its application for the Amesse restart, the joint letter from Singer and Holladay effectively takes it out of the running. An earlier version of this story reported that the application had been withdrawn.)

Other applicants seeking to open schools in Denver as part of the district’s annual “Call for New Quality Schools” are being asked for more information about serving English language learners, as well.

“The applicants do need to fix it, because it is an important element of serving children in Denver,” Holladay said at Monday’s school board work session. “And we are going to do some reflection, as well.”

Two other applicants are still in play to replace Amesse: STRIVE Prep charter school and the Montbello Children’s Network, which is a partnership between the current Amesse community and McGlone Academy, a nearby district-run school in the far northeast part of the city.

The DPS school board voted in December to close Amesse and two other low-performing elementary schools, Greenlee and Gilpin Montessori. The district solicited applications for programs to replace Amesse and Greenlee but not Gilpin, where enrollment was declining.

DPS staff on Monday recommended which applicants to replace the two schools met the district’s “quality” bar. The school board will vote Thursday on those recommendations.

Both STRIVE Prep and the Montbello Children’s Network met the “quality” requirement according to staff, and cleared additional pre-screening requirements for building placement.

Just one applicant vying to replace Greenlee met the district’s “quality” requirements. That application, for a school called the Center for Talent Development at Greenlee, was submitted by Sheldon Reynolds, the current principal of Greenlee.

The other applicant for the Greenlee replacement, a Wyoming-based charter school network called PODER Academy, was not recommended for approval. District staff said the application did not make a “compelling case” the model could be replicated in Denver, and cited a lack of community support and limited information on how the school would serve English language learners and special education students.

The applicants left standing after Thursday’s school board vote will next be considered by a community review board, which will make recommendations to Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg then will make his recommendations to the school board, which will choose replacements for the two schools.

Eric Gorski contributed information to this report.