IPS reverses course on School 43 plan that ‘blindsided’ community leaders

A week after revealing a plan to convert School 43 to a magnet program with a focus on physical activity, Indianapolis Public Schools leaders are reversing course. They plan to seek more public input before making a decision.

At a meeting with community leaders last night, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee agreed to hold forums for the public and parents to discuss the future of the school. The school could become a magnet or innovation school or remain a traditional neighborhood school.

The move comes on the heels of a school board meeting Aug. 16 that turned heated when the administration revealed plans to convert School 43 to the district’s second SUPER school, a popular magnet program currently in School 19. The plans had not been discussed with community leaders who have strongly supported the school.

“We felt so blindsided,” said Brenda Vance Paschal, a neighborhood association member who has been heavily involved with the school. “If you were thinking about this, why didn’t you tell us?”

School 43, which is in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood on the north side of downtown, has grappled with rock-bottom test scores, discipline problems and unstable leadership in recent years. In February, the district sent a top leader to run the school after the principal resigned without warning. A new principal who grew up in the neighborhood took the helm this year, and he has won support from community leaders.

Throughout the turmoil, the school has been buoyed by strong support from dozens of volunteer tutors, the nearby community center and Great Places 2020, a community group devoted to revitalizing the neighborhood. Leaders have been discussing the future of the school and planning community meetings about the school for the last several months.

At the Aug. 16 board meeting, school board member Kelly Bentley said the district was making a “huge mistake” by not getting input from community leaders.

“The district generally doesn’t do a good job of really reaching out and having these conversations with the community,” she said. “They are the owners of the schools. We ought to give them input on some of this stuff.”

District officials released the proposal to turn School 43 into a magnet school as part of their plan for moving middle school students across IPS from combined middle-high schools to dedicated middle schools and elementary schools serving students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The plan called for turning School 43 into a SUPER school and adding seventh and eighth grade students.

The updated proposal from the administration does not include the conversion to a magnet program, but the school will still add the middle grades. The board is expected to vote on the plan Thursday.