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

Marshall closing meeting draws tiny crowd, just two speakers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Fewer than 20 people filled the seats of the John Marshall auditorium Thursday.

There was little sign of interest from the community at a public forum Thursday about closing John Marshall Middle School. Fewer than 20 people filled the seats of the auditorium of the beleaguered school, and the meeting ended less than seven minutes after it began.

“Seeing no one here, I think we are going to go ahead and adjoin to our regular business meeting,” said Indianapolis Public Schools board President Mary Ann Sullivan.

The board typically requires people to sign up to speak in advance, but for the second meeting in a row, Sullivan opened the floor to anyone.

There was just one speaker: Jerry Coverstone, who ran an unsuccessful independent campaign for state senate in 2016. Coverstone, who grew up in the neighborhood but attended a township high school, focused on Indiana’s private school voucher program.

“I look and see how the school voucher program is providing tax-funded money to private, religious-based schools, and then I turn around and I see our public schools closing down,” Coverstone said. “That bothers me.”

The meeting was one of several public forums the board is holding about a proposal to close Marshall and Broad Ripple High School and convert two other high schools to middle schools. The district voted last summer to convert Marshall, which had served grades 7-12, to a dedicated middle school this year. If the board approves the plan to close the school, the students will relocate to the Arlington campus.

The board will hold forums at 5:30 p.m. August 29 at Arlington High School and August 31 at Northwest High School.

One other commenter, Nathan Harris, arrived after the public forum ended but spoke during the regular board meeting. Harris, who graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, also spoke Tuesday at the meeting at Broad Ripple High School. That meeting drew close to 200 people and lasted about an hour and half, in stark contrast with the forum at Marshall.

Sullivan speculated that the meeting may have been smaller because the campus is already scheduled to convert to a middle school.

“It makes me sad,” she said. “I would like to think that all of our schools have been special places for someone.”

School closings

After years of academic woes, John Marshall will probably close next year. Here’s why.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
IPS leaders are considering a plan to close three high schools.

The past several years have been tough for families at John Marshall: Amid dismal test scores and declining graduation rates, it fended off stake takeover, was converted to a middle school and was nearly restarted with an outside manager.

Now, the school is likely to close.

The school, which is on the far eastside of Indianapolis Public Schools, would close under a plan released by Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee last month. The students at Marshall would be transferred to Arlington, which the administration wants to convert to a middle school. The IPS board is expected to vote in September.

The board will have a meeting about the plan 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Marshall, which will begin with 90 minutes for public comment. The deadline to sign up online to speak is noon Thursday. It follows a meeting Tuesday at Broad Ripple High School, where dozens of people spoke out against closing the school.

Whether the Marshall community will be as outspoken remains to be seen, but it is clear that the board has many competing interests as it decides whether to close the school.

Here are some reasons to keep Marshall open:

  • The far eastside neighborhood around Marshall has its fair share of challenges. About 29 percent of residents live in poverty, and the median household income is $35,800. But the area has strong support from the Glick foundation, which has invested heavily at nearby School 103, the district’s first attempt to turnaround a failing school by partnering with a charter network to create an innovation school.
  • Closing Marshall could leave a gap in the neighborhood that would be hard to fill, and the district does not have a clear proposal for reusing or selling the 342,062 square foot campus. It can fit 1,650 students but just 498 middle and high schoolers were enrolled last year.
  • Marshall will convert to a middle school this fall as part of a district plan to eliminate schools that serve grades 7-12. By closing the school immediately after having restructured it as a middle school, IPS would add more instability, which research shows is bad for student outcomes.

Here are some reasons Marshall is facing closure:

  • The school has academic challenges. The 2017 graduation rate is expected to be 54.7 percent (the lowest in the district) and test scores are rock bottom. IPS leaders have struggled to come up with a plan for improving the school, despite pressure from the neighborhood.
  • Marshall is on the far eastside of the district, and it would be hard to get students from other neighborhoods to travel there for a magnet high school. The four high schools the administration recommended keeping are all near the center of the district, where officials say it will be easier to bus students from across IPS.
  • The Marshall campus is in worse shape than any other high school, according to the IPS school closing report. The district says the school needs nearly $45 million in repairs, and it needs significant asbestos remediation.