School closings

Indianapolis Public Schools is about to reveal which high schools are likely to close. Here’s what you should know.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The Indianapolis Public Schools administration is about to announce which high schools they aim to close.

The wait to learn which Indianapolis high schools could close is almost over.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is expected to release his recommendation next week, following an Indianapolis Public Schools report calling for three of its seven high schools to close. The administration recommendation will also include plans for where magnet programs at closed schools could move and what might happen to the vacant buildings.

The board plans to vote on which high schools to close in September. Before a final vote, the district is expected to hold meetings at each of the schools targeted for closure.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

Here are four things you should know ahead of the decision:

1. Some high schools are (virtually) safe from closure.

Although Ferebee and other district administrators have been close-lipped about which high schools are most likely to close — the list of criteria is so expansive it’s difficult to draw any conclusions — some schools are in far more danger than others.

It would be stunning, for example, if the administration recommended closing Arsenal Technical High School, the district’s largest high school and a hub for career training programs. Other schools seem far more likely to face closure, including the beloved art magnet Broad Ripple High School. The building is expected to be less than 30 percent full this fall and it has the highest per student spending in IPS.

Read Chalkbeat’s analysis of each IPS high school.

2. The effect on current and future students can’t be easily predicted.

The district expects to have more than twice as many seats as there are high school students next year. IPS leaders says closing schools could save more than $4 million per year and allow the district to invest in more advanced classes and career and technical education programs at the four remaining high schools.

But research on how closing high schools affects student outcomes, such as graduation rates, is mixed. Some studies have shown that current students are less likely to graduate when their high school closes. But when the process is executed well and students are given better options, some research has found improved graduation rates for current and future students.

3. Indianapolis Public Schools has been losing high-schoolers for years.

At its peak, IPS had 11 high school buildings serving an average of 2,373 students. This fall, it’s expected to run seven buildings with an average of 763 students each, according to the district closing report.

Families have been leaving Indianapolis Public Schools for suburban, charter and private schools for decades. Over the last 10 years alone, enrollment in IPS high schools has fallen by more than 40 percent, and the decline is even more apparent looking further back. In 1968, the district enrolled 26,107 high school students. Enrollment has drastically declined since then, and the district expects to educate just 5,352 high-schoolers next year.

4. Lots of community members oppose closing high schools.

Whichever high schools district leaders move to close, there is likely to be vigorous community opposition.

Parents, students and alumni have spoken out against closing schools at several contentious district-run meetings in recent weeks and pled with the administration to slow down or come up with an alternative plan. Closing high schools, they said, will leave vacant buildings in neighborhoods, push students to dropout and increase violence, as students from different communities are forced into the same school. Critics even organized their own meeting to oppose closing high schools.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

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.