School Closings

At painful meeting, Indianapolis superintendent makes case for closing high schools: ‘The status quo is not good enough’

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
IPS leaders are considering a plan to close three high schools.

Emotions were running high at Indianapolis Public Schools headquarters Thursday as the administration laid out plans for closing three of the district’s seven high schools. There were pleas for other ideas from frustrated community members. At least one board member cried at the prospect of closing a beloved school.

But in the end, there was little indication that the plan to close Northwest, Arlington and Broad Ripple high schools would change. The board will vote on the proposal this September.

The room was crowded with alumni, families and staff from the schools facing closure and skeptics of the district’s collaboration with charter schools.

Community members understand that the district faces a weighty decision, said Yvette Coleman-Foreste, an alumni of Arlington and member of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority that supports Northwest.

“But we want to also ask the question,” she continued, “Was this not purposed by design? Couldn’t there have been something that could’ve (been) done before we reached this point in time?”

Despite that criticism, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration focused on not only showing the necessity of change, but also laying out an optimistic vision for the future.

With fewer high schools, the district would be able to invest in specialized career academies that prepare students for college and help them develop in-demand, marketable skills, Ferebee said. That’s essential, he argued, because economic mobility is low in the city — poor children in Indianapolis have a far lower chance of achieving prosperity than in other metro areas.

“The status quo is not good enough,” he said. “We’re not doing our job preparing our students to take care of themselves and their families. … I refuse to continue to shortchange our students the best experience possible that will prepare them for the next phase of their lives.”

The administration also suggested that redesigning IPS high schools would help attract students who are currently choosing private, charter or township schools.

But in a mark of the distrust between some community members and the district leadership, IPS parent Chrissy Smith questioned whether the administration would use the money saved by closing high schools wisely.

“How is this board and administration going to guarantee students, parents and taxpayers that the savings from closing buildings and disrupting our students education will actually go back to the classrooms?” she asked.

Closing high schools is always painful for communities, but the issue is particularly controversial in Indianapolis because the district is adding a growing number of charter schools to its innovation network.

Innovation schools have the flexibility of charter schools but can receive district services such as transportation. IPS gets credit from the state for their results on tests and other measures, but it has little control over innovation schools’ daily operation — and their teachers work for the charter or nonprofit managers.

Like other community members and parents who spoke out at the board meeting, Smith is a frequent critic of the administration’s collaboration with charter schools. The decision to approve three innovation high schools earlier this year seemed to rub salt in the wound left by possible high school closures.

“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?”

The board members who spoke Thursday were supportive of the proposal for adding career academies to high schools, but some were emotional at the prospect of closing beloved high schools.

Board member Kelly Bentley, who graduated from Broad Ripple, was choked with tears as she spoke about the school.

“I do not minimize at all, not for one minute, your love of the school and the memories you hold so dear,” she said. But “emotions and memories aside, there is simply no way that our district can continue to grow and fund critical needs … while maintaining a 37 percent occupancy rate at our high school level.”

They also appeared keenly aware of the wave of criticism they have drawn in the weeks since the district revealed plans to close schools.

Board member Venita Moore, who graduated from Arlington, said that she has heard many times that the board is not listening, does not hear and does not care.

“I stand here to say before you today that I did hear, we are listening and we do care,” Moore said. “We will find a way to ensure … that you have an opportunity to help shape the district, but we all know that the district must change.”

Transition plan

Students at one Memphis elementary school may relocate during construction

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Students demonstrate ancient Chinese martial arts during a showcase for parents at the end of Shelby County Schools' 2017 summer learning academy at Alcy Elementary School.

Students at Alcy Elementary School in South Memphis likely won’t be staying put during construction of their new school.

It’s also possible that the new building won’t be ready until January of 2020 instead of the fall of 2019 as originally planned.

School board members will vote in the coming months on whether to temporarily relocate Alcy students to Magnolia Elementary. The original plan was to stay in the current building until a replacement is built on another part of Alcy’s campus.

“Our construction staff said there wasn’t enough land to build the new school and operate the old school with parking lot and dropoffs and do it all safely,” explained Billy Orgel, who chairs the board’s facilities committee for Shelby County Schools.

Orgel’s panel reviewed the construction schedule on Monday with facility staff members for the district.

The new $19 million building will merge students from Alcy, Magnolia, and Charjean elementary schools. Eventually, the old Alcy building will be demolished, while the other two school buildings will be leveled or sold. It’s all part of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to close, build, and consolidate seven schools into three new ones, similar to an earlier project at Westhaven Elementary.

Board members mulled the possibility of relocating Alcy students in January to stay on construction schedule but opted to recommend a move at the end of the school year — a decision that would push construction back by about six months.

“It’s more orderly for everyone to have the summer to prepare rather than the holidays,” Orgel said.

Students at Goodlett Elementary, another school in Hopson’s consolidation plan, will stay in their current building while a new one is built nearby. The new school will bring in students from Knight Road Elementary, along with some from Sheffield and Getwell elementary schools. Knight Road is be demolished later.

After the Alcy and Goodlett projects, the next construction phase calls for a new K-12 Woodstock school that would merge with Lucy and Northaven elementary schools.

School Closings

Hired: Indianapolis Public Schools chooses principals to help ‘reinvent’ high schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indianapolis Public Schools went on a hiring spree Thursday, selecting principals for the four high schools that will remain open next fall and a new chief of staff.

Four current IPS leaders will take the helm at its high schools next year — three of whom will remain at schools they now lead. The district interviewed several external candidates and increased the salary cap for principals to $150,000 per year as part of a school reconfiguration that included closing three high schools. The principals chosen are:

  • Shane O’Day will remain as principal of Shortridge High School,
  • Lauren Franklin will remain as principal of Crispus Attucks High School,
  • Stan Law, who is currently principal at Arlington High School, will take over at George Washington High School, and
  • Lloyd Bryant, who took over as interim principal at Arsenal Technical High School when Julie Bakehorn was abruptly removed, will become the permanent principal at the school.

“They have the ability to lead the academy model and do it really well,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “I’m excited about their leadership, and I look forward to them sharing their vision with students and families.”

The board also approved hiring Ahmed Young as chief of staff. A former teacher and lawyer by training, Young previously oversaw charter schools for Mayor Joe Hogsett.

As IPS chief of staff, Young will work on both academic and operational oversight. Ferebee said that Young will take on some of the responsibilities of Wanda Legrand and David Rosenberg, two top administrators who recently left the district. But the district may hire an additional staffer as well.

“He’s a very talented guy, and he’s shown that in his work in the mayor’s office,” Ferebee said. “We are really fortunate to have him on the team.”

Young will be paid $150,000 per year. Three of the principals — Law, O’Day and Franklin — will be paid $125,000 per year, at least $20,000 more than each currently makes. Principal Bryant, who will lead the largest school, will be paid $140,000 per year, up from his current salary of $110,000 per year.

The four principals will also be paid additional stipends this year to plan for the academies and hire teachers in the coming months.

The principals will lead their schools through a significant transition as the district switches to an all magnet high school model in 2018-2019, branded as “reinventing” high schools. Each school will have academies with focus areas such as the performing arts, health sciences and information technology. Instead of choosing a high school by location, students will be expected to select an academy based on their interests.

Last week, the board voted to close three high schools after months of contentious meetings over the proposal. Arlington, Northwest and Broad Ripple high schools will close at the end of this year. The move follows decades of shrinking enrollment as the district loses students to suburban, charter and private schools.