School Closings

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want to close high schools. But first, they need permission from the state.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Manual High School was taken over by the state in 2012. IPS is proposing closing the school if it is returned to the district.

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders have a plan to close high schools, but some decisions are beyond their control. It’s state officials who will ultimately determine the fate of several district high schools.

Five schools that would be affected by the district’s high school closing and reconfiguration plan are under state oversight, so the Indiana State Board of Education has the final say over changes. It’s unlikely they would dramatically alter the district’s proposal for 2018-2019, but looking ahead, the state board will decide the future of at least two schools.

Here is some background on where schools stand and what decisions the state board must make.

What happens next?

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee released his recommendation last month, and the board is expected to vote in September. Meetings will be held at each school recommended for closure in July and August.

Once the IPS board approves a final plan, the state board will review it at their meeting in October, state board spokesman Josh Gillespie wrote in an email.

“As this is a local issue,” he wrote, “we want to see what action the IPS Board takes.”

What schools are overseen by the state?

Ferebee’s proposal calls for closing Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School and converting Northwest and Arlington high schools to middle schools. The district is free to make any changes it wants at Broad Ripple and Northwest. But the other two schools are overseen by the state, and the district can’t make changes without their permission.

After years of failing grades from the state, Arlington was taken over by the state five years ago, and only returned to district control in 2015. Marshall is getting extra outside help through a milder form of intervention.

George Washington High School, which is expected to stay open as a magnet school, is also in state intervention, and the district will probably need permission to make significant changes.

The district also includes three schools that are no longer managed by IPS. At the same time that the state took over Arlington, it took over two other IPS high schools — Howe and Manual — that are still managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit operator from Florida. The company also manages Emma Donnan Middle School, which is not part of the high school plan.

What could happen to those schools?

The IPS high school plan calls for converting Arlington to a middle school. Marshall, which will open as a middle school this fall, would close and the students would instead attend the newly created Arlington middle school.

Both campuses are on the northeast side, but Arlington is in better condition and features details like a planetarium, which may be why the administration recommended keeping that building open. Arlington is now managed by IPS, but both Marshall and Arlington are still subject to state oversight, and the state board would need to approve the closures.

George Washington is expected to continue serving grades 9-12. But under the district proposal it would convert from a neighborhood school to a magnet school serving students from across the district. Because George Washington is in state intervention, the state board would likely need to approve the changes.

Finally, there are two takeover schools. IPS has no control over Howe and Manual high schools, which are managed by CSUSA. The contracts for managing those schools run until the end of this year, and it’s unclear what the state board will do when it comes time to renew them. Both schools are getting failing grades from the state, but despite those low marks, they have won support from board members in the past.

If the state board decides to end their contract with CSUSA and return Howe and Manual to IPS control, Ferebee’s high school proposal lays out a potential plan for the schools: Close their doors and send their students to new magnet programs at the remaining high schools.

Controversy

Boundary lines of proposed South Loop high school drive wedge between communities

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke
About 30 speakers weighed in on a boundary proposal for a new South Loop high school at a public meeting at IIT.

The parent, wearing an “I Love NTA” T-shirt, said it loudly and directly toward the end of the public comment section Thursday night. “It sickens me to be here today and see so many people fighting for scraps,” said Kawana Hebron, in a public meeting on the boundaries for a proposed South Loop high school on the current site of National Teachers Academy. “Every community on this map is fighting for scraps.”

The 1,200-student high school, slated to open for the 2019-2020 school year near the corner of Cermak Road and State Street, has become a wedge issue dividing communities and races on the Near South Side.

Supporters of NTA, which is a 82 percent black elementary school, say pressure from wealthy white and Chinese families is leading the district to shutter its exceptional 1-plus rated program. A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of Cook County in June by parents and supporters contends the decision violates the Illinois Civil Rights Code. 

But residents of Chinatown and the condo-and-crane laden South Loop have lobbied for an open-enrollment high school for years and that the district is running out of places to put one.

“I worry for my younger brother,” said a 15-year-old who lives between Chinatown and Bridgeport and travels north to go to the highly selective Jones College Prep. She said that too many students compete for too few seats in the nail-biting process to get into a selective enrollment high school. Plus, she worries about the safety, and environment, of the schools near her home. “We want something close, but good.”

PHOTO: Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools
The “general attendance” boundary for the proposed South Loop high school is outlined in blue. The neighborhoods outlined in red would receive “preference,” but they would not be guaranteed seats.

One by one, residents of Chinatown or nearby spoke in favor of the high school at the meeting in Hermann Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They described their long drives, their fearfulness of dropping off children in schools with few, if any, Chinese students, and their concerns about truancy and poor academics at some neighboring open-enrollment high schools.

But their comments were sandwiched by dissenting views. A member of South Loop Elementary’s Local School Council argued that Chicago Public Schools has not established a clear process when it comes to shuttering an elementary and spending $10 million to replace it with a high school. “CPS scheduled this meeting at the same time as a capital budget meeting,” she complained.

She was followed by another South Loop parent who expressed concerns about potential overcrowding, the limited $10 million budget for the conversion, and the genesis of the project. “It’s a terrible way to start a new high school – on the ashes of a good elementary school,” the parent said.

The most persistent critique Thursday night was not about the decision to close NTA, but, rather, of the boundary line that would determine who gets guaranteed access and who doesn’t. The GAP, a diverse middle-class neighborhood bordered by 31st on the north, 35th on the South, King Drive to the east and LaSalle Street to the west, sits just outside the proposed boundary. A parade of GAP residents said they’ve been waiting for decades for a good option for their children but have been locked out in this iteration of the map. Children who live in the GAP would have “preference” status but would not be guaranteed access to seats.

“By not including our children into the guaranteed access high school boundaries – they are being excluded from high-quality options,” said Claudia Silva-Hernandez, the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7. “Our children deserve the peace of mind of a guaranteed-access option just like the children of South Loop, Chinatown, and Bridgeport.”

Leonard E. McGee, the president of the GAP Community Organization, said that tens of millions in tax-increment financing dollars – that is, money that the city collects on top of property tax revenues that is intended for economic development in places that need it most – originated from the neighborhood in the 1980s and went to help fund the construction of NTA. But not many of the area’s students got seats there.

Asked how he felt about the high school pitting community groups against each other, he paused. “If we’re all fighting for scraps, it must be a good scrap we’re fighting for.”

The meeting was run by Herald “Chip” Johnson, chief officer of CPS’ Office of Family and Community Engagement. He said that detailed notes from the meeting will be handed over to the office of CEO Janice Jackson. She will make a final recommendation to the Board of Education, which will put the plan up for a vote.

new year

Here are the Memphis schools opening and closing this school year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Alcy Elementary Schools is being demolished this summer to make way for a new building on the same property that will also house students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.

Six schools will open and six will close as the new school year begins next month.

This year’s closures are composed mostly of charter schools. That’s a shift from recent years — about two dozen district-run schools have shuttered since 2012. All of the schools opening are charter schools, bringing the district’s total to 57, which is more than half of the charter schools statewide.

Below is a list of closures and openings Chalkbeat has compiled from Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools Opening

  • Believe Memphis Academy is a new college preparatory charter school that will focus on literacy while serving students in fourth and fifth grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade.
  • Crosstown High School will focus on creating student projects that solve problems of local businesses and organizations. The school will start with 150 ninth-graders and will be housed in a building shared with businesses and apartments in Crosstown Concourse, a renovated Sears warehouse.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy will open its fifth school starting with middle schoolers. It will eventually expand to create the Memphis network’s second high school in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.
  • Memphis Business Academy will open an elementary school and a middle school in Hickory Hill. The schools were originally slated to open in 2017, but were delayed to finalize property and financing, CEO Anthony Anderson said.
  • Perea Elementary School will focus on emotional health and community supports for families living in poverty. District leaders initially rejected its application, but school board members approved it. They liked the organization’s academic and community work with preschoolers in the same building.

Schools Closing

  • Alcy Elementary School will be demolished this summer to make room for a new building. It is expected to open in 2020 with students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.
  • Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy will close. The charter network’s founder, Willie Herenton, a former Memphis school superintendent, said in April the schools are closing because of a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
  • GRAD Academy, part of the Achievement School District, announced in January the high school would close because the Houston-based charter organization could not sustain it. It was the third school in the district to close since the state-run district started in 2012.
  • Legacy Leadership Academy is closing after its first year because the charter organization lost its federal nonprofit status, and enrollment was low.
  • Manor Lake Elementary is closing to merge with nearby Geeter Middle School because low enrollment made for extra room in their buildings. The new Geeter K-8 will join eight others in the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a neighborhood school improvement program started by Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School.