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.

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.