School closings

As Indianapolis leaders choose which high schools to close, some campuses are in more danger than others.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
It would be a surprising move if IPS leaders decided to close the legendary Crispus Attucks High School.

As Indianapolis Public Schools leaders met with parents, students and alumni to discuss plans to close three so-far unnamed high schools, there was one question on everyone’s mind: Which of the district’s schools will be shut down?

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says leaders are looking for community input.

“No decision has been made at this point,” he said.

The district has outlined an expansive list of criteria to determine the fate of its high schools, covering everything from the academic offerings at each school to the number of parking spaces. An IPS committee recommended closing three of the seven high schools that will be in operation this fall.

But some schools are clearly in more danger of closing than others. Here are some factors that could help determine why each school might stay — or go.

Arlington High School

Reasons to keep: Arlington is in an unusual position that could spare it from closing. The school was taken over by the state in 2012, and only returned to district control because a charter operator withdrew in 2015. Although the school is managed by IPS, the district would need permission from the state to close its doors.

The school is supported by a passionate group of alumni and community members. Last week, the district held a meeting about schools closing just blocks away from Arlington in the basement of Zion Hope Baptist Church. The building was so crowded that some late arrivers were turned away.

With plans already underway to convert John Marshall High School to a middle school, closing Arlington would leave only one high school on the east side — Arsenal Technical High School. This fall, Arlington middle schoolers will move to Marshall, and high schoolers will move from Marshall to Arlington.

The Arlington building is in relatively good condition (and includes a planetarium), but the district could potentially shut down the high school and move another school — such as John Marshall Middle School — into the building.

Reasons to close: Arlington has been getting low marks from the state for years, which led the state to take over the school, and the district may decide to pull the plug.

Even after the district moves the high school students from Marshall to Arlington, the building is expected to be less than half full.

Arlington is less than five miles from several charter and township high schools. That could be a bad sign, since it will struggle to attract more students with so much competition. But the district might choose to keep the school open to retain students who might leave IPS if Arlington closes.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 690
Percent full: 32 percent
State grade: F
Neighborhood: Northeast side

Arsenal Technical High School

Reasons to keep: If there’s one school that seems safe from closure, it’s Arsenal. It has more students than any high school in the district, and it is closer to full than any other school.

Arsenal also has several programs with strong academic reputations, such as the Math and Science Academy, that attract students to district high schools. Its sprawling campus also houses many of the district’s career and technical education programs — from culinary arts to advanced manufacturing — which have gotten renewed focus in recent years.

Arsenal costs less per student to run than almost any other high school in the district, according to an analysis last year. And if the campus housed more students, it would likely be even more cost effective because large schools nearly always cost less to run than small ones.

Reasons to close: If the district leadership decided to invest in smaller high schools — as was a national trend for a while — closing Arsenal might make sense. But given the current push to consolidate, closing the school would be a stunning move.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 1,808
Percent full: 60 percent
State grade: D
Neighborhood: Near east side

Broad Ripple High School

Reasons to keep: Broad Ripple is doing better academically than some IPS high schools, with a graduation rate of 89 percent, significantly above the district average.

The established arts magnet has passionate alumni, parents and students who show their support for the school vocally and often. At a meeting on the north side last month, families from Broad Ripple pled with the district to slow down the process.

The arts program is also a well-known and unique offering that could attract students to the district.

Reasons to close: The argument for closing Broad Ripple is all about money. It costs more per student to run than any other school in the district — in fact, an analysis last year found that Broad Ripple gets twice as much funding per student than Crispus Attucks High School.

One reason for that is simple: The building serves just a fraction of the students it was designed to house. That means higher costs per student for basics like heat and maintenance.

Closing high schools will increase enrollment at the remaining campuses, but because Broad Ripple is on the edge of the district and in an area near lots of school options, it could be hard to attract enough students to make good use of the vast building.

Finally, Broad Ripple is in a thriving neighborhood with a regular stream of new apartments and businesses. If the district closed the school, it is unlikely that the building would be derelict and selling it could be profitable.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 666
Percent full: 28 percent
State grade: C
Neighborhood: Broad Ripple

Crispus Attucks High School

Reasons to keep: Crispus Attucks is legendary in Indianapolis. Founded as the city’s first all black high school, it was a product of segregation. But its students and teachers thrived despite the oppressive forces that created it. That history, which was told in a documentary last year, could make closing the school politically toxic.

Attucks has other advantages too: It is centrally located, near the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, a particular advantage for the medical magnet program, and it’s performing relatively well academically, with a graduation rate of 96 percent, well above the state average.

The financial calculations also look good for the school. A district analysis last year found that it costs less per student to run Crispus Attucks than nearly any school in the district.

Reasons to close: Attucks opened in 1929, is one of the older high schools in the district, and it could have repair costs. With its central location, it also could be an attractive building to sell. But given all the reasons to keep Attucks open, the school seems largely safe from closure.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 699
Percent full: 51 percent
State grade: C
Neighborhood: Downtown

George Washington High School

Reasons to keep: The George Washington community has been through the pain of closing already. After shuttering the school for five years, the district reopened it in 2000. At the time, advocates hoped it would be an anchor for the west side community.

Board member Diane Arnold, who graduated from George Washington, has said that dropout rates on the near west side spiked when the school was closed, and students were forced to take a long bus ride to Northwest.

The west side community has many advocates who continue to strongly support the school.

Reasons to close: Washington has struggled in recent years, both academically and culturally. Because it has gotten low marks from the state, the school is one of three district high schools that are getting extra coaching as part of a transformation zone, a form of state intervention. The school had some severe problems with student fights after a rotating series of principals, although the current principal is in her third year.

Washington also has the lowest usage rate among the high schools. Next year, the district expects the school to be just 21 percent full.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 403
Percent full: 21 percent
State grade: D
Neighborhood: Near west side

Northwest High School

Reasons to keep: Northwest has relatively high enrollment, with 739 students expected in the fall. Although it will have nearly twice as many empty seats as students, it is still closer to full than most IPS high schools.

The district is also planning to expand science and technology programs at the school. Next year it will begin offering Project Lead the Way advanced science courses. (The district eventually plans to offer PLTW at four high schools.)

Reasons to close: Northwest has struggled academically, and after persistent low grades from the state, it is also part of the state-funded transformation zone.

Like Broad Ripple, the school is on the far edge of the district close to Speedway and Pike Township schools. If the district closes the school, it could lose students to neighboring districts. But it would also be hard to attract enough students to fill the building.

By the numbers
Enrollment: 739
Percent full: 35 percent
State grade: D
Neighborhood: Northwest side

Shortridge High School

Reasons to keep: Shortridge has the highest state grade of any high school in IPS and the district has moved to make it a showcase in the last few years. The International Baccalaureate program moved into the Shortridge High School building in 2015, after the district relocated another magnet program to make space. The IB high school, a rigorous curriculum that offers college credit, aims to attract high-achieving students who often leave the district for high school. It is the only IPS high school that is getting a B or better from the state.

It serves as effectively a continuation of the popular Center for Inquiry magnet elementary schools, which also use the IB curriculum. And if the program is able to establish a reputation among more affluent families on the north side, it would help stem the tide of students leaving for private, charter and township high schools.

The building itself is beautiful and centrally located. Plus, Kurt Vonnegut graduated from the school.

Reasons to close: Shortridge has the lowest enrollment of any high school in the district, and it is one of the emptiest, with just a quarter of the students it could fit.

Closing the school could also be seen as smart politics. When the district leadership ousted the program that had been housed in the building to make way for the IB school it caused an uproar. Families who were upset about the decision said that it favored affluent white families (even though the IB program was very diverse). Preserving Shortridge while closing beloved schools that serve more students of color could cause a backlash.

By the numbers
Shortridge High School
Enrollment: 347
Percent full: 24 percent
State grade: B

John Marshall Middle School

This fall, the district plans to convert John Marshall to a middle school, moving high school students to Arlington. But the Marshall building will still be part of the high school planning process, and the district could decide to reconfigure the school once again. For instance, it could move the middle school students from Marshall to Arlington, and close the Marshall building.

School closings

Breaking: High school teachers across Indianapolis Public Schools may need to reapply for their jobs

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

High school teachers across Indianapolis Public Schools may need to reapply for their jobs as part of a district-wide reconfiguration.

That includes teachers at high schools that are remaining open as well as those at schools that will close at the end of this year. The plan was announced to teachers yesterday, less than 24 hours after the IPS board approved a proposal to close three high schools.

The goal is to make sure that teachers are well matched with their schools, said Mindy Schlegel, who heads human resources for the district. Even schools that remain open will dramatically change under the high school reconfiguration plan, she said. They will have new specialized magnet academies and, potentially, new leaders.

“We really wanted to give teachers the opportunity to learn more,” she said, “and find the right fit for them.”

Teachers may not get their first choice position because school leaders will be able to interview and select teachers. But the district doesn’t expect any teachers to lose their jobs, Schlegel said.

But while Schlegel framed the decision as a move to help teachers find jobs they like, union leader Rhondalyn Cornett was concerned it could push educators to leave the district.

“This is like a total disruption at one time,” Cornett said.

Since the announcement, Cornett has received dozens of texts and emails from concerned teachers. Teachers say they feel like they have sacrificed because they love the district, and now they are being treated like they are pawns, she said.

“I mean,” she added, “why wouldn’t they feel like that?”

Under the high school reconfiguration plan approved Monday, Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School will close. The Northwest and Arlington high school campuses will be converted to middle schools.

Four high schools will remain open: Crispus Attucks, Shortridge, George Washington and Arsenal Technical high schools.

Teachers will have a chance to learn more about the programs and leadership at each high school in October or November, Schlegel said. Then, the human resources department will schedule interviews for teachers at their first choice schools.

“Closing four buildings is a big shakeup, so I’m not sure that we can avoid so much disruption,” she said. “We are really trying to handhold teachers through this process so they land in the right spot.”

Some teachers won’t need to go through the transfer process, including those who have received special training to teach International Baccalaureate courses, arts specialists, life skills teachers and career and technical teachers. Schlegel said some of those educators may switch buildings, but they will stay in the same positions.

Teachers in core content areas, such as English and math, however, will need to go through the application process even if they wish to stay at their current campus.

School closings

It’s final: Indianapolis Public Schools Board approves plan to close high schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
The room was crowded with parents, students and teachers as the board considered a proposal to close schools.

In a board room crowded with students, parents and teachers, the Indianapolis Public Schools Board voted to close schools Monday.

While many board members framed the decision as painful, but unavoidable, many in the crowd laughed, murmured and occasionally yelled in skepticism.

That tension came to the surface when board member Kelly Bentley, who graduated from Broad Ripple High School, spoke about her heartbreak at closing the high schools.

“All I can say is, I’m sorry,” Bentley said. “The very human reaction to this difficult decision is anger, sadness, and the need to place blame.”

A woman in the audience stood to interrupt her. “Blame, blame,” said the woman, as she walked out of the board room. “I’m blaming you.”

Her comment was a sign of the simmering animosity some critics of the plan appear to have for district leaders, but it’s not clear whether the vocal opposition from people in the audience reflects broader feelings in the community — or even among the hundred or so people at the meeting.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said that many of the critics in the audience have been to several meetings throughout the process.  

“Many people understand the need to right size our high schools,” he said, “but not many people wanted their high school to close, and it was a tough decision that had to be made.”

The vote was five to two in favor of the plan. Board members Venita Moore and Elizabeth Gore voted against it. Board members Diane Arnold, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Mary Ann Sullivan, Michael O’Connor and Kelly Bentley voted in favor.

Beginning next school year, about 5,000 high school students in the district will be combined at four campuses, half the number that were operating just last year.

Broad Ripple and John Marshall Middle School will close their doors at the end of this year. The Arlington and Northwest High School campuses will be used to house middle schools and additional services, such as the newcomer program and a night high school.

Venita Moore said she supported closing high schools, but she was opposed to the plan because it only kept campuses at the core of the district open. “I will have to vote no,” she said.

One reason the administration recommended keeping open the four schools near the center of the district is because it will make it easier to bus students. The plan to close schools goes hand-in-hand with a proposal to create an all-magnet high school model. If approved, students will be able to select any high school that interests them, and transportation costs could be higher if the district must bus students to schools on the far edges of its boundaries.

The four remaining campuses — Shortridge, George Washington, Crispus Attucks and Arsenal Technical high schools —  will offer programs in subjects such as health sciences, manufacturing and information technology.

The board did not vote on the career academy plan Monday, but it is expected to at a future meeting, and none of the board members indicated they would oppose it.

“We must do a better job of providing the best academic experience for our students,” said board member Diane Arnold. “Increased student opportunities for AP classes, stronger athletic programs and a more robust educational model are all potential rewards for the proposed changes.”

The move to reconfigure high schools comes as the district faces a host of challenges. Several have struggled to improve graduation rates and test scores. And there is intense competition from charter and township high schools.

After decades of shrinking enrollment, the district currently has more than twice as many seats in high school seats as students to fill them. All those empty seats push up costs of running the campuses, and the district estimates it could save more than $7 million by reconfiguring schools.

Hundreds of people shared their anger, sadness, resignation and support at district-led public meetings about high school closings throughout the spring and summer. Others vented their frustration online and in meetings they organized themselves.

But people still wanted to make their voices heard the day of the vote.

Ahead of the meeting, a cluster of about two dozen protesters opposed to the plan gathered on the sidewalk outside, holding signs as passing cars honked in support.

One of the protesters was Zoe Bardon, a student at Shortridge, who said that although her school won’t close, she wanted to support her friends at schools that are slated to close.

“It’s really frustrating,” she said. “We haven’t been listened to … as students.”

This morning, however, another demonstration sent a far different message. About a dozen parents with the organization group Stand for Children, which is closely aligned with the current administration, arrived at the central office to deliver hundreds of emails in support of closing high schools.

Seretha Edwards, a mother of four IPS students, said that she didn’t want her kids going to high schools that are in “crisis.”

“If there is a program available that offered my child not only a high school diploma but an education that made them college ready or prepared for an entry-level career position,” she said, “there is no discussion about it. I’m on board.”