School closings

3 high schools could close under Indianapolis Public Schools plan (updated)

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Update (May 11, 2017): This story has been updated to include an additional meeting added to the schedule by IPS and an updated location for the May 15 meeting.

Indianapolis Public Schools will close three high schools in the coming years if the school board approves a recommendation from the administration. But it’s not yet clear which schools face shutdown.

Decades of enrollment declines have left the district with high schools that collectively enroll less than half as many students as they were built to educate. District leaders have been contemplating closing schools for months, but the outlines of the plan are just beginning to take shape. There is already a plan in motion to convert John Marshall High School to a middle school this fall, leaving seven other high schools. A report from a district facilities committee released Friday calls for keeping four IPS high schools open — and shutting the doors at three unnamed schools.

A Chalkbeat analysis last July revealed that empty class rooms are driving up costs at IPS high schools, and the district anticipates that it would save as much as $4 million per year by closing three schools.

The recommendation marks the beginning of a planning process that is expected to last until the fall, when the board plans to vote on closing high schools.

The committee will present their recommendation to the board at a meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at School 15, 2302 E. Michigan St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

Read our prior coverage for more details:

IPS will host four community meeting before making a decision:

6-8 p.m. April 26
Glendale Library
6101 N. Keystone Ave.

6-8 p.m. May 1
Ivy Tech Culinary Center
2820 N. Meridian Street

6-8 p.m. May 11
Zion Hope Baptist Church
5950 E 46th Street

6-8 p.m. May 15
Hawthorne Community Center
2440 West Ohio Street

6-8 p.m. May 18
Garfield Park Burrello Family Center
2345 Pagoda Drive

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.

School closings

As traditional schools close, are innovation schools the future for Indianapolis high schoolers?

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Schools in Center Township.

It’s the start of a new school year for students across Indianapolis. While hundreds of Indianapolis Public Schools high schoolers face the prospect that their campuses will likely close next year, another set of students attend schools that are just opening their doors.

At the same time that IPS leaders are planning to close three district high schools, they approved two new high schools in partnership with charter operators and added a third school, which was previously an independent charter, into the innovation network.

The school board’s decision to approve new innovation high schools at the same time it is closing traditional schools offers a hint at what IPS’ future may hold: A more fragmented district, with smaller campuses that are managed individually or by charter networks.

But Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says, innovation schools will not replace traditional high schools for most IPS students.

“We do need options … and for some families, they like the smaller high school. But we’re just not in a financial position to operate a bunch of small high schools because that’s expensive,”  he told Chalkbeat in April. “There may be other new high schools, but none of those options are going to be a large, comprehensive high school.”

As innovation schools, the three campuses — Herron, Riverside and Purdue Polytechnic high schools — are considered part of IPS. The district gets credit for data such as their test scores and graduation rates. But it is not involved in their daily operation, and the staff work directly for the charter managers.

New innovation high schools will be entering a crowded landscape: Families who live in Center Township already have lots of options when it comes time to choose high schools. Last year, there were dozens of schools in the district’s boundaries educating 9-12 grade students, including eight IPS high schools, nine charter schools, two takeover schools managed by Charter Schools USA and 10 state-accredited private schools.

Even if traditional schools educate most IPS high schoolers in the future, it’s very likely that more and more students will go to innovation high schools.

When a task force released a report in April calling for three high schools to be closed, that theme was clear. Innovation and charter schools appear “poised for growth,” the report noted.

“As we move forward, we believe the high school growth will occur with innovation partners,” operations officer David Rosenberg told the board. It doesn’t make sense to preserve traditional, large buildings because “those partners … would prefer smaller, more flexible space.”

In addition to the three innovation high schools created this year, there are other potential schools on the horizon. The Mind Trust, a nonprofit education advocacy organization that has been influential in shaping district-charter partnerships in Indianapolis, awarded fellowships in July to help launch two additional innovation high schools.

The prospect of more innovation high schools has sparked suspicion from parents, teachers and community members who are skeptical of the district’s increasing collaboration with charter schools.

Chrissy Smith, an IPS parent who has been vocally opposed to innovation schools, raised the concern when the final closing plan was released in June.

“Why are we supporting innovation and charter schools, while closing IPS schools?” Smith asked. “If IPS doesn’t have enough money to operate the high schools we have, why are we paying for three … new charter innovation high schools?”

But it’s too early to tell how many IPS students will go to innovation high schools.

Charter schools tend to be smaller than traditional, urban and suburban public high schools. Herron enrolled over 800 students last year, while Riverside and Purdue each aim to enroll 600 students. That adds up to 2,000 students, a significant number in a district that educates about 5,000 high school students. Herron is already full, however, so it wouldn’t necessarily draw more students away from traditional high schools. The two new innovation schools are likely to draw many of their students from outside the district’s boundaries.