School closings

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want to close high schools. But first, they need permission from the state.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Manual High School was taken over by the state in 2012. IPS is proposing closing the school if it is returned to the district.

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders have a plan to close high schools, but some decisions are beyond their control. It’s state officials who will ultimately determine the fate of several district high schools.

Five schools that would be affected by the district’s high school closing and reconfiguration plan are under state oversight, so the Indiana State Board of Education has the final say over changes. It’s unlikely they would dramatically alter the district’s proposal for 2018-2019, but looking ahead, the state board will decide the future of at least two schools.

Here is some background on where schools stand and what decisions the state board must make.

What happens next?

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee released his recommendation last month, and the board is expected to vote in September. Meetings will be held at each school recommended for closure in July and August.

Once the IPS board approves a final plan, the state board will review it at their meeting in October, state board spokesman Josh Gillespie wrote in an email.

“As this is a local issue,” he wrote, “we want to see what action the IPS Board takes.”

What schools are overseen by the state?

Ferebee’s proposal calls for closing Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School and converting Northwest and Arlington high schools to middle schools. The district is free to make any changes it wants at Broad Ripple and Northwest. But the other two schools are overseen by the state, and the district can’t make changes without their permission.

After years of failing grades from the state, Arlington was taken over by the state five years ago, and only returned to district control in 2015. Marshall is getting extra outside help through a milder form of intervention.

George Washington High School, which is expected to stay open as a magnet school, is also in state intervention, and the district will probably need permission to make significant changes.

The district also includes three schools that are no longer managed by IPS. At the same time that the state took over Arlington, it took over two other IPS high schools — Howe and Manual — that are still managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit operator from Florida. The company also manages Emma Donnan Middle School, which is not part of the high school plan.

What could happen to those schools?

The IPS high school plan calls for converting Arlington to a middle school. Marshall, which will open as a middle school this fall, would close and the students would instead attend the newly created Arlington middle school.

Both campuses are on the northeast side, but Arlington is in better condition and features details like a planetarium, which may be why the administration recommended keeping that building open. Arlington is now managed by IPS, but both Marshall and Arlington are still subject to state oversight, and the state board would need to approve the closures.

George Washington is expected to continue serving grades 9-12. But under the district proposal it would convert from a neighborhood school to a magnet school serving students from across the district. Because George Washington is in state intervention, the state board would likely need to approve the changes.

Finally, there are two takeover schools. IPS has no control over Howe and Manual high schools, which are managed by CSUSA. The contracts for managing those schools run until the end of this year, and it’s unclear what the state board will do when it comes time to renew them. Both schools are getting failing grades from the state, but despite those low marks, they have won support from board members in the past.

If the state board decides to end their contract with CSUSA and return Howe and Manual to IPS control, Ferebee’s high school proposal lays out a potential plan for the schools: Close their doors and send their students to new magnet programs at the remaining high schools.

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.