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.

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.

School closings

This Arlington alumnus remembers a strong and supportive high school community. Now he wants the chance to pay it forward.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Arlington alumni association president Tim Bass with a photo of his former speech and drama teacher, Daveda Wyatt.

In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.

Want to share your own memories from one of these schools? Fill out this form.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Arlington alumni association president Timothy Bass, Sr. in his senior yearbook.

Timothy Bass, Sr., Arlington High School Class of 1982

President, Arlington High School Alumni Association

I’ve been a resident here in Indianapolis almost all my life; all my brothers, all my sisters, we all went to Arlington High School. My mother still lives on the east side, and has been over there almost 46 years. We’ve been in that community since 1971.

Question: What was Arlington like back then?
Answer: A lot of school pride – when I went there, there were about 2,600 students in all four classes. It was a very large school.

It was more of an attraction. There was a whole lot more things to offer kids then than today. I know the numbers alone in IPS – Arlington has anywhere from six to seven hundred students – but my argument is, how are you going to attract students to come to a school like Arlington if you’re not going to put better curriculum inside the school?

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Bass points to images of students in welding and home economics classes in his senior yearbook. Bass said students in his time had more opportunities to take advanced or technical courses.

Back then, there were a lot of sheet metal or welding and woodworking, arts and crafts, there was show choir and band and orchestra. I mean, this was a school with 2,600 students. I was in concert choir and show choir. Those were the types of programs that the public schools offered in the early ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. If you had dreams to become whatever, you could take those courses. Arsenal Tech has automotives and barbering (now), where you can learn certain trades and fields. In the public schools back then, you could take those trades at your home school.

When the school first opened, a lot of teachers I talk to, they’ll tell you that Arlington was no different from (elite private schools like) Park Tudor or Brebeuf. Students would cash out – when they went to Rose Hulman or Purdue, there were certain courses that they didn’t have to take because they already took them at Arlington.

Q. What was the relationship with the surrounding community?
A. Back in the day, many of us that lived in the Arlington community and neighborhood, we all walked to school. We all went to the same grade school, and all the kids that went to that school lived in the neighborhood. The community was at its peak. Businesses were growing, the values of the homes were up, because everybody lived in the community. It was like one big family. A lot of schools in that area fed into Arlington High School, that’s why the (high school enrollment) was so large, like 2,600, 2,800, because there were maybe eight elementary schools that existed back 30 years ago in that community.

The neighborhood was like a family. If I got in trouble, my neighbors saw it, they would get on me just like my parents would get on me, and then they would tell my parents later. Everybody looked out for one another.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Photos of past teachers and students fill the walls of the alumni room at Arlington High School. In black and white are former speech and drama teacher Daveda Wyatt (top) and former biology teacher William Bess (bottom), the first African American teacher at the school.

Q. Who were the teachers that had an influence on you?
A. My speech teacher Mrs. Wyatt — she was a speech teacher there, a drama teacher, in charge of all the plays that we did at Arlington. She was more than just a teacher, she was a mother figure. I remember back in 1980, my dad suffered a heart attack, and we didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. Because I was very close to my dad, I was struggling in her class and she saw how I was struggling, and one day she asked me to stay after school. And we had that conversation, I shared with her what I was going through, and the encouragement she gave me, it stayed with me until right now. She’s the reason why I do what I do for Arlington, going back and giving to those kids who I know need a strong support system.

 

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Supplies for the alumni snack pantry line a bookshelf at Arlington High School. Alumni donate money and food to the pantry, so students staying after school can have something to eat.

Q. What does the alumni association do today?
A. We started an alumni snack pantry for the students at Arlington to help with some of the hunger that’s going on in our public schools. We have alumni who are part of the Walker Scholarship Foundation; for the past few years, we have been sending kids to college debt-free. This year we sent 15 students. Giving kids support, giving kids the opportunity to benefit, is what the alumni have been able to do.

When Arlington came back (to IPS after state takeover) a couple years ago, it opened with many, many challenges. Arlington for years had a bad name, like people were afraid to tell other people they had graduated from Arlington because of all the negative stuff people were saying. But the last 3 years, everybody who graduated from Arlington now has a sense of pride because now everybody is coming together on one accord, trying to save kids. It makes us all like one big family. Our slogan is, since day one, “Together we can, Together we will” because we believe it really takes a village to help these kids today.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
The alumni room at Arlington High School. Bass said students and teachers use this room during the school day to take a breath and meditate before returning to class.

Q. What do you think about the proposed closing?
A. There’s a recommendation for Arlington to become a middle school and all that is is a recommendation. We as the alumni we’re fighting that recommendation to keep Arlington open as a high school. I know that we may be fighting a decision that’s already been made, but we’d rather go out fighting than have that regret later.

I think that the board and Dr. Ferebee just haven’t given Arlington enough time to be successful. This is just the third school year, and the school has made significant progress. So all we’re asking the board and Dr. Ferebee, at least give us five years to see what we could do!

We feel like we deserve a chance to show everybody that this school can be what it was when it opened in 1961. We’re showing them there are a lot of things happening at Arlington High School that they aren’t even aware of.