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:

Buildings

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.

Struggling Detroit schools

Scores of Detroit schools are empty eyesores. Here’s why it’s so hard to bring them back to life.

PHOTO: Anna Clark
Blackboards in the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School still hold memories. The school closed in 2009.

The school building that Detroit Prep founder Kyle Smitley is trying — and struggling — to buy for her charter school is far from the only one sitting empty across the city.

A wave of about 200 school closures since 2000 has pockmarked the city with large, empty, often architecturally significant buildings. Some closed schools were repurposed, most often as charter schools; others were torn down. But most remain vacant, although the exact number is unclear.

Vacant schools can become crime hubs or crumbling dangers. But even if that doesn’t happen, they are disheartening reminders of Detroit’s struggle to prioritize education for its children — at the heart of communities where good schools could make a big difference.

Most residents would like to see the buildings come back to life, if not as schools, as something. But even as developers rework other vacant structures, these school buildings are rarely repurposed.

Understanding why illuminates the complexities facing Detroit’s main school district’s effort to get itself back on track.

For one, school district policies — some of which were created to discourage flipping and the opening of charter schools  —  have made selling these buildings difficult.

Smitley, the co-founder of two charter schools, wants to move Detroit Prep into the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School by fall 2018. Detroit Prep opened in 2016 in the basement of an Indian Village church and will eventually serve 430 K-8 students.

“We’d like to be part of a positive story for Detroit, and turn a decrepit building back into a school that serves the neighborhood,” Smitley said.

Smitley is preparing to do a $4 million rehab on a building where flaking paint litters the hardwood floors. Lockers gape open. Natural sunlight floods classrooms where instructions from the last day of school are still chalked on the blackboard: “Spelling Test … George Washington Carver Reading – Timed  … Clean Desks … Take Books.”

Landlord Dennis Kefallinos bought the former Joyce school from the public school district in 2014 for $600,000. The general manager of Kefallinos’ company told Chalkbeat that they planned to repurpose it for residential use when the market seemed right, or wait a few more years to re-sell it for a large profit.

But another challenge of repurposing schools is that their complex layouts and their residential locations far from downtown do not easily adapt to other uses. And the market for former school buildings was flooded with closed public and parochial schools in recent years, which further reduced demand.  

Some developers have transformed empty Detroit schools into apartments, luxury condominiums, or a boutique office building. However, these were former Catholic schools, or, in the case of Leland Lofts, sold to a private developer more than 35 years ago. Catholic schools generally have smaller footprints, which are more manageable to renovate, and they do not have the same deed restrictions as more recently closed public schools.

PHOTO: Anna Clark
The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School in Detroit closed in 2009.

In the case of Joyce school, Smitley’s persistence and the intervention of a mutual friend convinced the Kefallinos company to sell to Detroit Prep. She agreed to buy the building for $750,000, and to pay the district $75,000 on top of the sales price, per a condition in the original deed.

But the status of the sale is uncertain, as she and the district spar over the law and whether the district can halt the sale of the building — which it no longer owns.

On the northwest side of Detroit,  two Detroiters have been trying for years to buy the former Cooley High School to turn it into a community center, as part of the much-lauded Cooley ReUse Project. This summer, it was crowdfunding the last $10,000 it needed to finally become Cooley’s owners.

But on August 31, the project’s social media account announced that “after meeting with Detroit Public Schools Community District’s (DPSCD) new leadership, it has been confirmed that Thomas M. Cooley High School is no longer for sale. We were told that Cooley will be secured and redeveloped by its current owner, DPSCD.”

Donations are being returned to the contributors. In the meantime, the 322,000-square-foot building is vulnerable to theft and vandalism, destabilizing its northwest Detroit neighborhood.

The Cooley and Joyce schools were built when Detroit schools faced a different challenge: capacity. They opened during the fast-moving period between 1910 and 1930 when 180 new schools were built to keep up with growth. In 1966, the district peaked with 299,962 students. Since then, it has shrunk to fewer than 50,000 students.

No matter who owns a closed school building, its revival depends on its security. Failure to secure it results in profound damage by scrappers, criminals, and natural elements. That will either add millions to the cost of rehabilitation or doom it to demolition. It also threatens the neighborhood.

John Grover co-authored a major Loveland report, spending 18 months investigating 200 years of archives about public schools in Detroit, and visiting every school in the city.

Boarding vacant schools with plywood isn’t enough, he learned. As its buildings were continually vandalized, the district escalated security with welded steel doors and cameras, though even these are vulnerable. Securing a building properly costs about $100,000 upfront, and $50,000 per year ever after, according to the Loveland report. In 2007, it cost the district more than $1.5 million a year to maintain empty buildings.

Chris Mihailovich, general manager of Dennis Kefallinos’ company, said that it hasn’t been cheap to own the empty Joyce building. Taxes are high, security is expensive, grass has to be mowed in summer and snow has to be shoveled in winter.

The Joyce school is in better condition than most, which Grover credits to its dense neighborhood. “At least up until a few years ago, a retired cop lived across the street, and he watched the block and would call in if he saw anything,” Grover said.

But he remembered the fate of one elementary school in east Detroit that was in a stable neighborhood when it closed.

“It became like a hotbed for prostitution and drug dealing,” he said. “There were mattresses stacked in the gymnasium. It definitely had a negative impact on the neighborhood. … I can’t imagine people would want to live around that, and those who could get out did.”

 

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.