No new middle school for the west side after plans for an innovative model crumble

Plans for an unusual new middle school on the west side of Indianapolis have quietly come to an end.

The aim was to create a school that would both educate westside middle schoolers, who have struggled on state tests, and help parents further their education. The school was intended to be an innovation school partnership between Indianapolis Public Schools and Goodwill Industries, which runs several Excel Centers for adults to finish high school.

Former-IPS principal Sheila Dollaske, who was leading the planning of the school, initially received strong support for her vision. When the school was chartered by the Indianapolis Charter School Board, a top IPS official spoke in favor of the proposal. Dollaske, who helped turn around a struggling district school on the west side, also received a $100,000 fellowship from the Mind Trust to plan for the school.

For years, community leaders on the west side have been meeting to plan for the future middle school. But despite all the support and community involvement, plans for the school have collapsed.

Dollaske referred questions about the middle school to Cindy Graham, vice-president of marketing for Goodwill.

“Within the past several months, the educational landscape of the near west side has shifted from K-6 elementary schools to K-8 schools, creating more options for middle school students,” Graham said in a statement. “Given these recent changes, we have made the difficult decision to not move forward with plans to open Westside Community Middle School.”

There have been hints for months that the plan was in trouble. With the IPS administration pushing to remove middle school students from high schools and instead create more K-8 schools and dedicated middle schools, there seemed to be a clear opportunity for a new middle school on the west side. But when district leaders revealed reconfiguration plans this summer, there was no west side middle school on the agenda.

Since then, there has been increasing uncertainty about whether IPS had any buildings on the west side that the administration was willing to use for the Westside Community Middle School.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district had not rejected plans for the middle school outright, but it did not have a building that would accommodate the school.

“IPS providing a facility was a challenge,” Ferebee said. “We did not have a facility in the geographic area that they had identified as a priority.”