School Closings

Broad Ripple is one of three Indianapolis high schools facing closure

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Broad Ripple high School is one of three schools that the IPS administration recommended closing.

Broad Ripple, Arlington and Northwest high schools would close under a plan released today by Indianapolis Public Schools.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s proposal would spare the four high schools closest to the core of the district: George Washington, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Arsenal Technical High School.

The IPS Board is not expected to vote on the plan until September, but if the board approves it, the district would convert Northwest and Arlington high schools to middle schools. It would also close John Marshall, which is scheduled to open as a middle school this fall.

Specialized academies where students can study subjects such as information technology, health sciences and teaching would be housed in the four remaining schools, which would all be magnets. The arts and humanities magnet programs at Broad Ripple would relocate to Shortridge, which would continue to operate the International Baccalaureate program. Students from across the district would choose from any of the four schools.

The four schools that would remain open are near the city’s downtown core. One reason the administration is aiming to close the high schools on the edge of the district is because having more centrally located schools would help reduce transportation costs and the length of bus rides for students, said IPS operations officer David Rosenberg.

In a system of all magnet high schools, “it makes sense to ensure that the majority of high schools that remain open are more centrally located,” Ferebee said. “We believe that this high school model is the best model for our students.”

The proposal builds on an earlier recommendation to close three unnamed high schools. In the weeks since the recommendation to close high schools was released, the administration has hosted several public meetings where parents, students and alumni spoke out against closing their schools. Tuesday night, just hours before the administration released its plan, critics held a protest against closing high schools outside a school board meeting.

Some of the fiercest criticism of the move has come from parents and community members who oppose the district’s increasing collaboration with charter schools. They have called out district leaders for looking to close traditional high schools at the same time that the district is adding three charter high schools to the innovation network. As innovation schools, they are considered part of the district but they have the flexibility of charter schools, and their teachers are not part of the teachers union because they work for the charter school managers.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Dountonia Batts

“This board is considering closing high schools while simultaneously approving charter schools that have no accountability to the public but access to public funds,” parent Dountonia Batts told the IPS board Tuesday. “IPS is destroying its own infrastructure that takes the public voice out of public education.”

The more detailed plan released today is sure to draw a fresh wave of opposition now that residents know which schools are targeted for closure. Passionate alumni and students from Broad Ripple have been some of the most vocal defenders of their high school, which is one of oldest campuses in the district and the home of a beloved arts magnet program.

Meanwhile, a district-led meeting near the Arlington campus was so crowded that some people were turned away. The school went through years of turmoil after it was taken over by the state for poor performance, and alumni have become staunch advocates.

Northwest is one of the largest high schools in IPS, with enrollment expected to exceed 700 students next year, and it is one of the newest buildings in the district. But that was not enough to spare the school from closure. Like the other targeted schools, it is on the distant edge of the district, making it difficult to transport students from other neighborhoods.

Here are some more details on the plans for buildings and academic programs:


In a move that may appease some critics, the plan also calls for closing two administrative buildings and colocating staff at school campuses: Forest Manor, at 4501 E. 32nd Street, and the Facilities Maintenance Department, at 1129 East 16th Street. Forest Manor houses offices for staff in several departments, including special education, English as a second language and school turnaround. Under the plan, they would relocate to the Arlington campus where they would share a building with a new middle school. The facilities department would also move to school campuses, with some of the department moving to the Francis Bellamy preschool center and some sharing space with a new middle school at Northwest.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

If the district follows through with the reshuffling in the proposal, it would result in four empty buildings: Broad Ripple, John Marshall, Forest Manor and the Facilities Maintenance Department. Both Broad Ripple and the Facilities Maintenance Department are in economically thriving areas, and the district expects that it could sell those properties for several million dollars each.

The plans for Forest Manor are less clear. They call for selling the building to eliminate the cost of maintenance. But it could also be used to house a charter school that joins the district innovation network. In its application for a charter, the proposed KIPP Indy High School listed Forest Manor as its first choice for a location.

Finding a new use for John Marshall could be more challenging: The administration does not yet have a redevelopment plan, and the report calls for working with community partners “to ensure a viable reuse to add to the community.”

Academic Programs

Each of the four remaining high schools would offer several career academies.

Shortridge: The humanities and visual and performing arts magnet programs at Broad Ripple would move to Shortridge, which would continue to offer the International Baccalaureate program. It will also offer computer science and engineering programs.

George Washington: As the only traditional high school that would remain, the near west side high would have several new academies programs, including advanced manufacturing, information technology and business.

Crispus Attucks: The storied high school near downtown would continue to offer the health science magnet program, and it would add a teacher training career track.

Arsenal: The district’s largest high school already houses several magnet and career and technical education programs. Under the current plan, it would offer programs in career technology (which includes subjects from cooking to diesel service), military training and construction. It would also maintain the magnet programs for law and public policy, math and science, and New Tech, a project-based learning school.

School Closings

Ahead of school closure vote, New York City families protest and anxiously await new options

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
P.S. 92 parent Jeanelle Valet protested that school's closure at recent rally in front of the education department's headquarters.

When Jeanelle Valet learned that the city planned to close P.S. 92, the Bronx elementary school her three children attend, she struggled to understand why.

She knew the school had a history of low performance, but it seemed to be working for her children. And it didn’t take much research to find other schools with lower attendance rates and similar test scores that avoided a spot on the closure list.

“I have gone through a lot of data for all these other schools,” Valet boomed through a megaphone as she stood on the steps of the education department’s headquarters, where advocates and parents gathered this week in protest. “There are other schools on the ‘Renewal’ list that aren’t getting closed that should be closed.”

On Wednesday, an oversight panel will vote on the city’s plans to shutter 13 schools — including P.S. 92 and seven others in the city’s “Renewal” improvement program — that officials decided are too low performing or have shed too many students to keep open. It’s the largest single round of closures since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014.

School closures are inherently disruptive and controversial — even schools with dismal academic records can inspire fierce loyalty from families and educators. The outcry against closures was loud and sustained under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who shut down dozens of low-performing schools and replaced them with new ones.

De Blasio has weathered a much smaller backlash because he has shuttered far fewer schools and on account of his $582 million Renewal program, which has flooded low-performing schools with extra social services and academic support rather than immediately closing them. Yet his approach has invited its own set of critiques.

The fact that de Blasio promised to “move heaven and earth” through his Renewal program to revamp troubled schools has prompted even some allies to question whether the program has fallen short. And the small number of closures has left parents like Valet wondering why their school was targeted when others were spared, and has fueled suspicions among some that de Blasio may be making space for more charter schools. (An education department spokesman denied that and said only four of 18 schools set to be closed or merged will be replaced by charter schools.)

Now, even as families at some of the schools rally against the closures, they are also wondering where their children will end up if the plans go through. While the city has promised to place them in higher-performing alternatives, many are skeptical — and still waiting for details.

“No one has told us anything,” Valet said.

The Panel for Educational Policy — an oversight board where the majority of members are appointed by the mayor — will vote on the closures Wednesday evening. In the past, it has signed off on nearly all of the city’s proposed closures, though five of the 13 members voted against shuttering a Bronx middle school last year. If the latest round of closures are approved, 26 of the original 94 Renewal schools will have been closed or merged with other schools.

Since launching the Renewal program in 2014, de Blasio has made clear that he would consider shutting down schools that failed to make “fast and intense” improvements after receiving extra support. Still, that has not insulated him from attacks from all sides: Critics of his approach say he should have closed the worst-off schools sooner rather than spending years trying to save them, while some ideological allies question his decision to close any schools at all.

“This administration, like its predecessor, relies too frequently on school closings as a remedy for failing schools,” Public Advocate Letitia James wrote in a recent letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Rather than helping students, closures disrupt whole communities.”

Even the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education — which has generally endorsed de Blasio’s turnaround strategy — implied in a statement last week that the city was partly to blame for some schools’ failure to improve, saying that the Renewal program’s support for schools has been “uneven.”

The group also argued that the education department “arbitrarily” targeted schools for closure — echoing a complaint made by many families and faculty members.

For instance, supporters of P.S./M.S. 42 in Queens have pointed out that the school has made gains on its test scores and quality reviews — even outperforming a number of other Renewal schools. Yet it is one of the schools slated for closure.

In the past, education department officials have said they consider a range of factors when deciding which schools to close.

“We look carefully at a school’s test scores, attendance, graduation rates, classroom instruction, leadership and the school’s overall trajectory for success,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman said in a statement. “For each school proposed for closure, we believe that students will be better served at a higher performing school.”

But critics say it’s often unclear how those criteria are applied to individual schools.

“There’s a lack of clarity, a randomness, in how schools are closed,” said Angelica Otero, executive director at Bronx Power, an organization that has organized parents against the closures. “That’s what feels really unfair.”

Adding to the frustration, de Blasio recently reversed his administration’s decision to close a Brooklyn high school. Because he cited community pressure, the reversal raised questions about whether politics play a role in closure decisions — while also giving other schools hope that protests might change the mayor’s mind.

“We were like, ‘Okay, it’s possible,’” Otero said when Brooklyn Collegiate was taken off the closure list. “Let’s keep working.” (Aciman, the education department spokesman, said the city reversed the planned closure after the community raised concerns about “limited high school options in Brownsville.”)

While families fight the closures, they are also worried about what will happen if they lose. City officials have promised to help students in the closing schools enroll in ones that are better performing. However, a Chalkbeat analysis found that students leaving closed schools often attend others that still perform below the city average.

Meanwhile, several parents said they are anxiously awaiting the individual enrollment help that city officials say is coming in early March after the closure plans are formally approved. For now, many parents like Magdalana Espinosa, who has children at two different Renewal schools slated for closure, do not know where their children are headed after their schools shut down.

“I’m not sure where I’m going to put my kids,” she said.

Empowerment Zone

In rare move, Memphis community council proposes school closure

PHOTO: Google Maps
Under the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone leadership council's proposal, Manor Lake Elementary would close and merge with Geeter Middle to create a K-8 school.

It isn’t every day that parent leaders press their school district to close a local school.

But that’s exactly what has happened in Memphis’ Whitehaven neighborhood over the last several months, as a group of parent leaders have reckoned with the challenges facing Manor Lake Elementary School.

Beverly Davis, whose child attends Whitehaven High School, first floated the idea of shutting Manor Lake and sending its 359 students to a nearby middle school next year, after staring down data showing low test scores, low enrollment, and high costs for building maintenance.

The leadership council she helps lead for a cluster of Whitehaven schools — made up of about 30 parents, teachers, students, and community members — liked the idea.

And this week, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson turned their idea into a proposal: This fall, Manor Lake should fold into Geeter Middle School, creating a new K-8 school that would be part of the district’s Whitehaven Empowerment Zone. If the proposal is approved, the new school would join four others in a group led by Whitehaven High School Principal Vincent Hunter and the leadership council.

The saga is surprising because decisions to close schools often meet fierce resistance from communities. Two common reasons for the pushback: Parents feel left out of the conversation until the last minute, and community members fear that their school will no longer be connected to the neighborhood.

The Whitehaven story escapes both of those pitfalls. Parents have long been involved in the Empowerment Zone, and the zone’s leadership is deeply rooted in the community. (Feedback from the wider community is coming soon.)

“In order for the model to work we need to keep it as a Whitehaven model,” Davis told Chalkbeat. “Under Dr. Hunter the Whitehaven model is parents, parents, and more parents. And that’s where these other schools come short. You let parents have a voice, you let parents come to the table.”

Whitehaven’s empowerment zone is unique within Shelby County Schools, where efforts to improve struggling schools have centered on a different model, the district’s Innovation Zone. In that model, schools get more resources, new leaders and teachers, and a longer school day — but district officials alone call the shots.

Under the empowerment zone, the district shares management with a leadership council that includes 11 teachers, nine parents, six community members, and four students in Whitehaven. The council meets monthly to talk about how schools are doing and how to address challenges school staff and students are facing.

The council has had both Geeter and Manor Lake — located just a half-mile apart — on their radar for months, after the district decided that both should enter the empowerment zone next year.

Geeter is coming from the Innovation Zone, where it was in the first cohort of schools to join and would be the first to exit. After five years in the Innovation Zone, the school’s performance on state tests has barely improved, and it remains solidly in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state. Last year, less than 10 percent of students posted test scores suggesting that they are on grade level in math or language arts.

After appearing on the state’s first “priority” list in 2012 because of its low test scores, Manor Lake Elementary actually escaped the state’s most recent warning list of the lowest-scoring 10 percent of schools. Yet less than 15 percent of students were considered proficient in language arts on state tests last year.

Both schools have far fewer students than they are designed to serve. On Tuesday, Hopson said the two schools are each at less than 60 percent capacity.

And Manor Lake is especially expensive to operate. As of summer 2016, Manor Lake Elementary had more than $2.5 million in maintenance costs for the building.

Eddie Jones, the chair of the Empowerment Zone leadership council who is also a county commissioner for the area, said merging the two schools is not only financially prudent, but will result in a better environment for the neighborhood’s students.

“Now you free up resources to put in that building to adequately educate our kids,” he said. “By combining those schools … you have everything in one building.”

The school board is expected to make an initial vote on the proposal next week, kicking off community meetings before a final vote. One such meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Whitehaven High School.