School closings

Dozens rally to protest closing high schools in Indianapolis Public Schools

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi

On the eve of learning which Indianapolis high schools could face closure, about 50 protesters rallied outside the Indianapolis Public Schools central office with a demand: Hold off.

Parents, teachers and community members gathered ahead of an IPS board meeting. The protest was organized by a loose coalition of groups including Concerned Clergy.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee will announce Wednesday which three of the seven high schools the administration recommends closing. The board will vote on the final plan in September.

Chalkbeat spoke to several of the protesters about why they were there and what they hoped to accomplish.

Elaine Bultman

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Elaine Bultman

Indianapolis Education Association member, 27-year teaching veteran, former teacher at School 15.

“There are so many different plans that could be used with these schools to keep them open. They’re in the communities where people live. This is taking our kids away from public education and forcing them to leave the community. No one wins. Students are constantly being transferred here to there, teachers are being transferred here to there. We’re losing our home…(I want IPS) to slow down.”

Bultman said the district did not allow enough community input in the process. “Simply having community meetings (isn’t enough). The decisions have been made about which schools are closing. That’s not input from our community.”

 

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Stardust A

Stardust A

Parent of a student at Crispus Attucks High School.

“It’s about privatization and taking funds away from the public … I’m all about accountability. When you put money into private hands, they’re not accountable to us. They don’t have to provide the same services. The money should go straight to the kids. (I hope) maybe that (the school board members) see some dissent and slow it down. The board needs to know that their constituents are paying attention.”

 

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Muhammad Siddeeq

Muhammad Siddeeq

Former science teacher at Shortridge and John Marshall high schools.

Siddeeq said IPS is now struggling with high school enrollment because of its own mistakes.

“You created this situation. They bomb our school populations, and then say, ‘You know what, we don’t have enough students to go to school!’ We’re really being invaded. And then they come to us and say, ‘You have a choice.’ Well, yeah, we have a choice, after you already wiped out any way of us possibly resisting.”

“The main thing is to alert the public and to hopefully put in the conscience of the school board to take a second look at how they’re conducting themselves.”

 

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Antonio Cardenas

Antonio Cardenas

Sophomore at Shortridge High School.

“It just breaks all of our hearts at Shortridge … A couple weeks before school let out, they were there talking to us, and they stopped taking questions from us after one of our kids said, ‘You’re trying to pack us into a can of sardines.’ They stopped the interview right there with the whole school and wouldn’t take any more questions. They refused to talk to our teachers afterward, and they just left out of nowhere.”

Cardenas said Shortridge is a successful school academically. “It’s growing really rapidly, but IPS isn’t looking at that. It’s looking at the student ratio to the building, but it’s not about that, it’s about how well we’re doing as a school.”

 

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Michelle Sanders

Michelle Sanders

Member of Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis from Purpose of Life Ministries.

“(There’s) a lack of communication and involvement of the community. … (We need) a new transition team of folks that have community voices and not just consultants to make the decisions on what to close if there are closures.”

Sanders said IPS can’t expect to be able to move students around the city easily. “Indianapolis is a large community that’s spread apart. You can’t necessarily just close half the high schools — you’re going to create transportation issues, you’re going to create cultural issues. It just creates a lot of different issues that I don’t think they’ve addressed.”

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.