Future of Schools

Hundreds gather at Broad Ripple High School to plead for the school to stay open

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Hundreds of people gathered in the Broad Ripple High School auditorium Tuesday night.

Hundreds of students, alumni and parents packed into the Broad Ripple High School auditorium Tuesday night to speak out about plans to close the campus.

Despite the contentious topic and large crowd, the meeting was about to end early after the Indianapolis Public Schools board heard from everyone who had signed up in advance.

But when a resident pled with the board members to allow more speakers, they opened the floor to other people in the crowd.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger

“I know that you so badly want parental and community engagement in IPS, and IPS needs it so badly,” said MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger, a frequent critic of the administration. “You’ve got a room full of people here who want to engage with you.”

In the end, dozens of people spoke during a public comment period that lasted about an hour and a half.

The meeting was the first since the Indianapolis Public Schools administration presented a plan last month to close three high schools. The proposal calls for closing Broad Ripple and John Marshall Middle School and converting Arlington and Northwest high schools to middle schools.

The board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at John Marshall and in August at Arlington and Northwest.

Many speakers urged the board not to close the school, but others seemed resigned to its inevitability. And the meeting was not as acrimonious as some of the earlier discussions of high school closings, with many speakers focusing on their love of the school.

Here are some comments — edited for brevity and clarity — from students, parents and alumni at the meeting.

Brela Akers, student

“Why take a school that has a supportive neighborhood away from students that live in an economically depressed area? Why can’t you give us a chance to actually let our program grow? We have been to Bands of America, we have the Nutcracker, we have Sisters Act, all of that. You don’t hear about schools doing that. I hear that if you close this school down, you’re going to move us to another school, but it won’t be the Ripple spirit that we have right now in this building.”

Brooke Blakemore, alumna

“I recently graduated from Broad Ripple. I am in the first sixth grade graduating class, I have been here for a total of seven years. I have stood there and played my instrument for many years. I am going to Tuskegee University, and it is because of Broad Ripple High School. I graduated tenth in my class. I do not have a childhood like most people have when they’re going to a school such as Tuskegee, but it was Broad Ripple that made me want to go to Tuskegee.”

Katie Bacone, alumna

“I’m here as a Broad Ripple alumna, as a resident of the Broad Ripple Village Association and a lifelong resident of Broad Ripple. As an alum, I am just saddened by the shocking news. And as a resident, I am full of anxiety at the possibility of the massive change that could occur if this should happen in my neighborhood.

“Six to eight million is a lot of money, but when compared with the ramifications, I don’t see how it’s worth it. I don’t think that people fully register to them how big an upset it would be for Broad Ripple and for IPS to not only close but sell this historic building. I am echoing what a lot of people have said, I just want to voice that I’m another person who wants to keep this place open.”

Scott Jenkins, resident

“I am a resident here in Broad Ripple. I serve on the Midtown Indy board. No one runs for the school board or becomes superintendent of schools in an urban school district to close schools. I know how hard this decision is. No one wants to realign school district boundaries, this very hard decision that you all are inheriting.

“What I would say to you is that the education facility that is here has a strong set of bones and genes. Unfortunately, it is an education program less a community program. Whatever you decide and wherever you move forward, you can flip that model. You can bring this community back into the school.”

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Mark Webster

Mark Webster, alumnus

“I’m a Class of ’83 graduate of Broad Ripple High school. I’m here today because I’m optimistic that you guys may not vote it to close, but I’m also a realist here, when I look at the economics of it, it’s gonna be hard not to close it when you got $6 to $8 million looking in your face to help your budget. My concern is though, in all the meetings we’ve gone to and we’ve been at, we’ve never heard a plan to restore and keep the history and the legacy of this school. This school joined IPS in 1923 So you’re talking about 94 years of educational opportunities right in this community, 94 years of history. Please don’t just close this school and not have a plan for history, building, I could see like a museum or something like that.

“In ’78, the same people in your same position voted to close Wood High School. Wood High School has no history. You can’t find anything about Wood. We cannot allow that to go for Broad Ripple. I will not stand for it.”

voices of the vote

Meet Denver teachers who voted yes to a strike, no to a strike — and just aren’t sure

PHOTO: PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Skinner Middle School math teacher Peter English walks out of the Riverside Baptist Church with his son, Landon, left, and daughter Brooke strapped to his chest after voting on whether to go on strike ()

Throughout the day, the parking lot of Riverside Baptist Church filled up as Denver teachers made their way into a meeting organized by their union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.  

Months of negotiations that failed to produce a deal between top leaders of Denver Public Schools and the union had given way to individual teachers facing a choice: To strike or not?

Along with reporting the news of the day — which you can read about here — Chalkbeat spent time visiting with teachers to get a sense of what was shaping their decision-making.

Most teachers we spoke with, both in depth and in passing, said they voted “yes” to strike. Union officials have said two-thirds of those who vote Saturday and in a second session Tuesday must sign off on a strike for it to proceed, and the prevailing wisdom among teachers we interviewed was that support is strong.

The decision, though, is far from black and white for many teachers, regardless of where they ultimately land.

Here are the stories of three teachers, all at different places:

Krista Skuce, Slavens K-8 school: Yes to strike

At the urging of teachers and parents, Slavens K-8 students turned out early on a few recent mornings to show support for their teachers. They wore red in solidarity and posed for pictures.

They also brought questions. “Why are you doing this?” was one.

Krista Skuce, a physical education teacher and 14-year Denver Public Schools employee, would tell students that she lives 40 minutes from the school because she can’t afford to live in Denver.

Krista Skuce

But there is more to her story. Her spouse, she said, is no longer able to work, beset by medical issues, unable to draw disability benefits, and in need of costly care including massage therapy, chiropractic appointments, neuromuscular therapies, and more.  

At the same time, Skuce said her pay “doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.” So she hustles, earning extra pay by driving across town to coach softball and basketball.

Skuce, like many teachers who stopped to talk about their votes on Saturday, believes the district can do more to boost teachers’ base pay — before bonuses and incentives.  

She said her salary has only increased $4,000 or $5,000 in the past 14 years, even though she has been teaching 27 years, has a master’s degree, and is National Board Certified.

Skuce said she knows that by voting to strike, she could very well end up taking money out of her own bank account. Striking teachers don’t get paychecks.

“I am hoping the district and the DCTA do the right thing and recognize the fact that there are some people here who are on the edge,” she said. “We are on the edge emotionally, financially. We know these are good people. And I think teachers are people who wake up every morning with forgiveness.

“You have to take a stand and say what you are for at some point in time in your life — and this is it,” she said. “I’m willing to do it, scary or not.”  

Jason Clymer, John F. Kennedy High School: No to strike

An English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, Jason Clymer stands with his fellow union members in the belief teachers aren’t paid enough. He finds fault with what is asked of teachers through LEAP, the district’s growth and performance system for teachers.

“Teachers at my school feel extremely micromanaged and can’t catch a breath,” he said.  

But in the end, after being one of the first teachers in the door Saturday and attending an information session, Clymer said he voted against the strike.

“Going on strike is very hard,” said Clymer, whose wife works in human resources for the district’s central office. “And I think the agreement DPS came to was close enough.”

Clymer questioned picking a fight now because of the limited scope of the negotiations. That would be the current agreement governing ProComp, the pay system that provides teachers one-time bonuses for things like teaching in a high-poverty school, getting strong evaluations, having students who earn high test scores, or teaching in a high-performing school.

He said he’d like to save some political leverage to focus on other issues covered by the district’s main contract with the union.

“It’s really unfortunate these things can’t all be negotiated together,” he said. “If the district came out and said, ‘We want to give you more money, not as much as you like, but we want to devote more to things like mental health services,’ I really think that would be a winning argument.”

In opposing a strike, Clymer said that he did not want to divide his fellow teachers

“Although I voted no, I believe in the union,” he said. “And if the union voted to strike, I will absolutely support the union.”

Paula Zendle, Denver Green School: Undecided about strike

Paula Zendle is dreading the moment that is appearing increasingly likely: standing before her students at the Denver Green School and explaining why she won’t be there to teach them.

“I tell them constantly, ‘Don’t miss school, don’t miss school. Don’t be absent, don’t be absent, don’t be absent,’” said Zendle, her eyes welling up with tears as she waited on a friend. “I have been fighting to avoid a strike. I hate this. It’s utterly and totally agonizing to me.”

Paula Zendle

Zendle said she left a career in the corporate world for the classroom and has been teaching eight years. She teaches English language acquisition and Spanish at the Green School, a popular and highly-rated middle school option in a district that celebrates choice.

 Zendle said she has done her research and written to the district’s chief financial officer. What bothers her is a system she believes rewards younger teachers and underpays teachers in terms of the cost of living.  

The average Denver teacher currently earns about $51,000 in base pay and $57,000 with incentives, according to data from the state education department and the district. That’s less than teachers in districts like Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, and Littleton.

District officials have agreed to put $20 million more into teacher compensation and defended their most recent offer on Saturday as “compelling.”

For Zendle, the prospect of facing her students — and that she works in a supportive school environment — is contributing to her struggle in deciding whether to vote “yes” to strike.

So if the moment does come, what will she tell her students?

“We have the right to protest unfair taxpayer spending,” she said. “This is not only unfair, it’s unconscionable. Their priorities have been wrong for 10 years.”

Then she paused and made clear that her decision had not been made. She considers herself a person of principle, and that will guide her in making a decision.

lesson plan

Denver hopes to keep its schools open in a strike — and the union wants you to send your kids

PHOTO: Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post
Students eat lunch in the cafeteria at Dora Moore K-8 School in Denver.

Superintendent Susana Cordova says she is committed to keeping Denver schools open and continuing to educate students in the event of a strike.

In Los Angeles, where a teacher strike is entering its second week, many students are watching movies and playing games. Cordova said she plans to do more for the 71,000 students in district-run schools if teachers vote to strike and state intervention does not lead to a deal. The 21,000 students who attend charter schools will not be affected.

“We want to assure parents school will stay open,” she said. “We know it is critically important that we focus on the education of our kids. Sixty percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. We know they depend on school not just for their meals but for their access to opportunity.”

Negotiations broke down Friday between the district and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union that represents teachers and special service providers such as nurses, school psychologists, and counselors. A strike vote is taking place in two sessions, one Saturday and another Tuesday. The earliest a strike could start is Jan. 28.

This would be the first strike in 25 years in the state’s largest school district. In 1994, the district used more than 1,000 substitutes to keep schools open, though many parents kept their children at home, something union leaders encouraged.

It’s not clear yet how high teacher participation in a strike would be. During the final week of bargaining, some teachers reported near universal support in their buildings, while others said some of their colleagues were uncertain. Some teachers have said they disagree with the union position in the negotiations and won’t participate as a matter of principle.

Teachers who strike do not get paid while they are not at work.

Cordova said the district is “in the process of building out our sub pool” and offering higher pay to those willing to work during a strike. But she declined to say how many substitutes the district could call on, and some teachers say they already have a hard time finding subs for routine absences.

Substitutes who work during a strike will earn $200 a day, double the normal rate, and “super subs” who work more than a certain number of days a year will get $250.

Many central office staff who have past teaching experience will be sent to schools to work with students. Cordova said the district is working on pre-packaged lesson plans for every grade and subject area so that learning can still take place, and officials will prioritize placing qualified staff members with special education and preschool students, those she deemed most vulnerable.

Students who get free or reduced-price lunch will still be able to eat in school cafeterias.

For its part, the union is encouraging parents to send their children to school, but with a different purpose.

“One major goal of a strike is for school buildings to be shut down as a demonstration of the essential labor performed by educators,” the union wrote in an FAQ document. “To this end, we encourage parents to send their students to school if their school building remains open. Student safety is paramount for all district schools, therefore the district will be obliged to close schools if safety becomes an issue due to limited staffing.”

Union officials said they were working to establish alternative daytime care with community partners like churches and Boys and Girls Clubs should schools close.