Future of Schools

Coming to Indianapolis: a public boarding school?

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison
Students in Spanish IV discuss their goals for the year at Arlington High School on the first day of school.

Indianapolis Public Schools next year could consider bringing a free public boarding school — one of just a few in the country — to the city.

The concept behind the school is to prove a stronger academic school, and safer, more stable daily life, for poor children who sometimes live in chaotic homes and neighborhoods.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he would love to have a residential school as part of IPS’ offerings, and that it’s not an unrealistic idea.

“If you can find the right facility, make the updates without breaking the bank, it can have a tremendous impact for students,” Ferebee said. “We know our students need structure and consistency. In many cases, they’re not getting it.”

It’s a controversial idea that has been tried only a handful of cities, starting with the SEED school, which was the nation’s first college preparatory public boarding school when it opened in 1998 as a charter school in Washington, D.C. SEED now has schools in Baltimore and South Florida, and is developing a school in Ohio.

Public boarding schools are expensive, as they must cover the cost of both housing and educating children. And the idea that students are better off living at school than with their families has been the subject of some debate.

Former IPS principal Lauren Franklin suggested the idea at an IPS school board committee meeting. She is spending the next two years developing a plan for opening a high-quality school in Indianapolis, possibly in partnership with the district, as one of the Mind Trust’s innovation school fellows.

Heather Tsavaris, Marlon Llewellyn, Lauren Franklin and Earl Phalen (left to right) were the winners of The Mind Trust's $100,000 innovation school fellowships.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Heather Tsavaris, Marlon Llewellyn, Lauren Franklin and Earl Phalen (left to right) were the winners of The Mind Trust’s $100,000 innovation school fellowships.

Franklin and three other Mind Trust fellows told board members they hope to open up to three new schools, or use their ideas turn around existing IPS schools. If they partner with IPS, the schools would be accountable to the district but independently run. They told the school board about their plans tonight at a meeting.

Franklin said she was inspired to consider a boarding school by her niece and nephew, who went through a difficult time at home.

“They did not have stability,” Franklin said. “They did not always know where they were going to sleep. They didn’t know if they were going to get dinner. There were so many unknowns that absolutely impacted their school performance.”

After a change in custody, Franklin said her relatives are now thriving, and that it’s not a coincidence that some of the changes in their lives are as simple as having a designated dinner time, homework time and an opportunity to participate in school activities.

“I thought, if this can make this type of difference for two kids, why wouldn’t we want to do that for more students?” she said. “I want to make sure the needs of students are being addressed.”

Franklin was also inspired by the success of the SEED Schools, which were featured in the 2010 education documentary “Waiting for Superman” and touted as an example of urban education done right.

But the prospect of opening a public boarding school is expensive, especially for a district with an already delicate financial situation. Franklin said her first estimate is that it could cost around between $30,000 and $40,000 per student to run a residential school. Currently, IPS spends $4,861 in basic tuition support per student.

“It’s a very costly proposal,” said Franklin, who said she is also considering an alternative plan built around a longer school day that provides all the services of a residential facility without the students sleeping overnight. She’ll develop her idea over the next year and likely propose specific plan in the fall of 2015. The school wouldn’t open until at least 2016.

Ferebee, who has visited the SEED School in Washington, acknowledged a residential school comes with additional discipline and supervision concerns. But he said he was confident Franklin would develop an idea that’s workable for IPS.

“She’s one of our own who was fortunate to be selected (for the fellowship), and I have a lot of confidence in her leadership abilities,” Ferebee said. “She’ll come back with a really good idea.”

The innovation school that could open first is a school in partnership with the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school. That proposal is being developed jointly by Arlington High School dean Marlon Llewellyn and Earl Phalen, who operates a public charter school at 23rd and Illinois streets.

Phalen and Llewellyn will present their idea to the board Nov. 11, and a vote to approve the school to open next fall is expected at its Dec. 9 meeting.

Their concept also includes a longer school day and more school days each year but rather than start a new school, Phalen and Llewellyn are expected to propose taking control of a low-performing IPS school that has yet to be selected. The school would serve kindergarteners through sixth graders and would use a blended-learning model, in which students sometimes learn on computers and sometimes through traditional teacher-led classroom lessons.

Another idea being developed is an entrepreneurship-focused middle school. Heather Tsavaris, a former counter-terrorism official for the U.S. State Department, is hoping to find new ways to prepare students for high-tech careers.

Ferebee said he was encouraged by all of the presentations, and is looking forward to how the ideas are developed over the next months and years.

“It was a reminder tonight of how creative some of the ideas are,” Ferebee said. “They all could add value to our instructional program. They were selected for a reason.”

Future of Schools

IPS students have made their high school choices. Here’s where they want to go.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

High schoolers across Indianapolis Public Schools have made their choices for next year, and some schools are proving far more popular than others.

With all but four high schools set to close, the district is already in the midst of an upheaval. Students’ choices this year could have far-reaching implications for the configuration of the district for years to come.

Shortridge High School had the greatest increase in demand, with more than triple the 400 students enrolled there now listing it as their first choice for next year. George Washington High School, which also enrolls more than 400 students now, is not likely to grow too much. And while Arsenal Technical and Crispus Attucks high schools are both likely to grow by hundreds of students, neither saw interest grow as exponentially as Shortridge.

The final enrollment at each school will determine such critical issues as how many teachers are hired, what courses are available to students, and how much it costs to operate the buildings. Ultimately, students’ choices are likely to shape course offerings over the next several years, district officials said.

The enrollment figures are the result of a district mandate requiring students from across the district to select high schools and magnet programs this fall. More than 90 percent of 8th to 11th grade students have made selections so far. All students will be placed in their top choice program, according to the IPS spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black.

Fewer than 500 IPS students have chosen programs at George Washington so far, according to district data obtained exclusively by Chalkbeat. In contrast, more than 1,300 students have selected Shortridge, which will house the arts magnet program currently at Broad Ripple and the International Baccalaureate Programme. More than 2,300 students have chosen programs at Arsenal Tech (currently the district’s largest high school with 1,826 students) and 1,050 have selected Crispus Attucks (which currently enrolls 695).

The uneven distribution of students did not take  Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration by complete surprise.

At an Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Oct. 4, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick asked, “What happens if you don’t have a nice, somewhat-even distribution? … What if it’s very out of whack?”

Ferebee said that the district will have room to accommodate students if a school proves especially popular. In the long term, he added, IPS may have to adjust, by replicating  popular programs and discontinuing unpopular ones.

But Ferebee also said the district was hoping to persuade students to take another look at some of the programs that might not be popular at first.

For instance, he said, “We do know it’s going to take some time to educate families on construction and engineering. So we knew out of the gate, not many students may be interested, so it will take some time to build a program.”

Here is a full breakdown of the schools and programs that students chose:

In total 5,142 IPS students chose their preferred programs as part of a broad reconfiguration plan that includes closing nearly half of the seven high school campuses because of low enrollment. The district has not provided projections of how many students would enroll in each high school. But if enrollment doesn’t shift in the coming months, some campuses will be far closer to capacity then others. While the initial deadline for choosing schools and programs has passed, enrollment remains open to any students who have not yet made their selection.

If no other students enrolled in IPS high schools, Shortridge would be nearly 89 percent full. Arsenal Tech and Crispus Attucks would each be over 76 percent full. And George Washington would be about 25 percent full.

At the four remaining high school campuses, the district is aiming to “reinvent” high school by vastly expanding specialized programs in subjects such as business, engineering, and the arts, which students will study alongside their core classwork.

Next year, every student will be enrolled in specialized programs within high schools. District leaders hope that students will choose schools based on their interests, rather than their neighborhood.

Principal Stan Law will take over George Washington next year. In an interview about the school last week, before IPS released student selections numbers, Law said that it was important for students and families to get accurate information so they would select schools based on student career interests rather than neighborhood.

“Everyone has their ideas about things, but only certain people have the accurate information,” he said.

The most popular programs are the health sciences academy at Crispus Attucks and the Career Technology Center at Arsenal Tech, where students can study subjects such as culinary arts, welding and fire rescue. Each attracted more than 900 students. The least popular are the teaching program at Crispus Attucks, chosen by  104 students, and the information technology program at George Washington, chosen by 80.

Despite its apparent unpopularity with IPS students, the information technology program fits in with a state push to prepare students for careers in computer science and related fields. Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda calls for requiring high schools to offer computer sciences classes, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants computer science to be a high school graduation requirement.


Breaking: Indiana didn’t set aside enough money for schools. Senate leader says a fix is ‘top priority.’

PHOTO: Photo by Shaina Cavazos/Chalkbeat
Students at Global Prep Academy, a charter school, learn about comparing shapes. All schools could see less funding if lawmakers do not fix the funding shortfall.

State education officials are expecting a shortfall in school funding this year that could be as high as $9 million because state and local officials underestimated Indiana’s student enrollment.

If the legislature does not act to increase funding, districts, charter schools and private schools that receive state vouchers could all get less money than they were promised this year.

Senate President David Long said new legislation to appropriate more money to schools would be proposed, though other lawmakers involved in budget-making were less certain on what a solution would look like this early.

“It’s our top priority, education is, so it’ll have our full focus when we come back in January,” Long said.

But on the upside, he said, public school enrollment increased since last year.

“It’s not a bad problem,” Long said. “We have more kids going into public schools than we did last year, but it’s a challenge for us only in a sense that we need to adjust our numbers.”

A memo from the Indiana Department of Education said the legislature’s budget appropriation was short by less than one-half of 1 percent. When the amount the legislature allocated for school funding does not line up with its funding formula, “the law requires the Department to proportionately reduce the total amount to be distributed to recipients,” the memo said.

It’s not clear how the miscalculation in enrollment numbers occurred, said Rep Tim Brown, a key budget-writer and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The budget dollars are estimated based on projected school enrollment counts from districts themselves, the education department and the legislative services agency, which helps provide information and data to lawmakers.

Brown urged people to keep the number in perspective, especially since the budget is crafted based on estimates. Brown said this was the first year since he became involved with budget writing in 2013 that projected budget allocations ended up being less than school enrollment, which was calculated based on counts from September Count Day.

“We’re looking at what our options are, but let us keep in mind it is $1.50 out of every $10,000 a school gets,” Brown said, adding that he wasn’t sure this early on how lawmakers would act to make up the shortfall.

But J.T. Coopman, executive director for the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said even small amounts of money make a difference for cash-strapped schools. Districts have already started making contracts and have obligations to pay for teacher salaries and services at this point. It’s pretty late in the game for this kind of news, he said.

“I did see that it’s less than a half a percent, but for schools that’s a lot of money,” Coopman said. “Can we get this fixed before it becomes a real problem for school districts?”

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who leads a district that is already in deficit, was optimistic. In a statement, he said, “we’re encouraged by the commitment and urgency demonstrated by our legislative leaders.”

Neither Brown nor Long knew how much public school enrollment had increased. The $32 billion two-year budget passed in April increased total dollars for schools by about 3.3 percent from 2017 to 2019, for a total of about $14 billion. Included within that was a 2.5 percent average increase for per-student funding to $6,709 in 2019, up from $6,540 last year.

The news of a funding shortfall comes as the state continues to see declining revenue. The Northwest Indiana Times reports that state revenue is down $136.5 million (2.8 percent) from what lawmakers estimated this past spring for the next two-year budget.

During the annual ceremonial start to the 2018 legislative session today, leaders discussed a need to provide more resources to schools and the state board of education. So far, many of the priorities involving education this year look to address workforce needs and encourage schools to offer more computer science courses.

But House Speaker Brian Bosma also shouted out “innovative” steps made by Indianapolis Public Schools and Fort Wayne Public Schools.

“People are trying something different and they are having great results with it,” Bosma said. “We need to give them more tools, we need to give them more opportunities.”