Parents, teachers speak out against restarting School 67 as an IPS innovation school

About a dozen parents and educators from School 67 pleaded with the Indianapolis Public Schools board at a meeting Tuesday night not to replace the principal, teachers, and staff — people who several speakers described as a “family.”

Superintendent Aleesia Johnson’s administration is expected to recommend Thursday overhauling the struggling campus as an innovation school and bringing in an outside manager that would likely hire a new principal, as well as new teachers and staff.

Through tears, parent Christina Brown asked the board not to change School 67, which is also known as Stephen Foster.

“That whole staff is a family. They love the parents. They are so welcoming. They are so helpful,” said Brown, who has four children at School 67. “Keep that building. Keep that family.”

None of the board members addressed the comments or spoke about the school. Johnson declined to comment on the recommendation before it is officially presented to the board Thursday.

Three years ago, the westside school was expanded to include middle school, and it now serves about 600 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. Nearly 45% of students at School 67 are English language learners, more than twice the district average and one of the highest rates of any campus. More than 70% of students come from low-income families.

When the district restarts schools with innovation partners, the aim is to improve campuses that have often had years of low test scores. School 67 has two years of failing grades from the state, and it was one of 11 schools that were selected for school quality reviews this year based on test scores. The evaluations include meetings with educators, students, and families at struggling schools.

But many of the parents from School 67 argued that their school didn’t need new management — it needed help.

Angela Cordova has four children who love their teachers at School 67. “Your system failed — not my teachers,” she said. “Why not give them the means to help these children better?”

Meredith Brooks, a social worker at School 67, said that the school educates many students who grapple with trauma — such as being placed in foster care, witnessing domestic violence, or experiencing homelessness. That makes consistency and strong relationships especially important.

“So why are we now outsourcing the education and care of these children? Why are we taking their stability away from them?” Brooks asked.

Bilingual assistant Fitzgerald Celestin, who helped translate for some parents at the board meeting, described School 67 as a “phenomenal place” that draws families through word-of-mouth but also faces challenges.

“We need tools,” Celestin said. “We need supports from you to keep our school going, because our school is such a strong community.”

The district has handed several struggling campuses to charter operators since it began creating innovation schools in 2015, and the board has always followed the recommendations of the administration. But the level of opposition from School 67 parents and teachers is unusual.

Johnson’s administration is also expected to recommend the restart of School 48, a school in Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood that has received five years of failing marks on the state accountability system. No parents or staff from that school spoke Tuesday.