School Closings

To keep Indianapolis high schools from closing, advocates encourage Northwest parents to tell school board: “Don’t sell off our district”

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
IPS alumna Carrie Harris speaks at a meeting at Northwest High School.

Advocates against Indianapolis Public Schools’ plans to close Northwest High School, and three others in the district, issued a call to action for parents at Northwest – don’t take this closing lying down.

“We need you to start fighting for your young people,” Carrie Harris, an alumna of Crispus Attucks, told parents at Northwest on Wednesday night.

About 40 people attended Wednesday’s meeting, including Northwest students, family members, and several teachers, who said at the beginning of the meeting they would not speak to the press for fear of repercussions from the district.

Members of the IPS Community Coalition and other opponents of the school closings were also present. The coalition brings together religious groups such as Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, education advocacy groups like Parent Power, as well as individual parents, educators, and concerned residents in the IPS district.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
IPS Community Coalition member Christina Smith urged parents to protest the school closing plan at upcoming IPS board meetings.

Along with answering questions about the proposed conversion of Northwest into a middle school, coalition members urged parents to voice their concerns at the IPS school board meeting at Northwest, which will be held on August 31. Facing low enrollment in IPS high schools, the school board will vote in September on the plan to close John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools, and convert Arlington and Northwest into middle schools in the 2018-2019 school year.

“As parents we need to let them know, don’t sell off our district,” said coalition member and IPS parent Christina Smith.

Harris said she and her husband talked to several IPS board members who hadn’t made up their minds about the closing and wanted to hear more from parents, not just alumni like Harris.

“What we haven’t had, we haven’t had the parents come and stand up,” Harris said. “I will be there standing with you but you need to be there standing for your student.”

One Northwest parent, Patricia Starks, said she felt the district hasn’t been listening to what parents want.

“My son has been going here since seventh grade, this is all he knows. This year, he’s a junior, he’s doing excellent,” she said. “If they close Northwest, his senior year, he has to go somewhere else. He has to start all over, learning the teachers, the culture, everything.”

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Patricia Starks, whose son attends Northwest, said she’s concerned about where her son will go for his senior year if the school closes.

Before leaving the meeting, Starks signed up on a laptop to speak at the school board meeting next week.

Coalition members also spoke out against the expansion of innovation schools in IPS and the personal and financial ties of some board members to organizations that promote charter schools. Innovation schools are part of IPS but they are run by nonprofits or charter operators and their teachers are not employed by the district and aren’t part of the district’s union.

“Board members aren’t listening to parents because that’s not the voices they hear. They hear the voices of these groups like Stand for Children,” Smith said.  Stand for Children Indiana is a parent organizing group that often advocates for innovation schools. Stand also has endorsed and campaigned heavily for several current IPS board members.

Coalition members also argued that IPS has not considered any of the alternatives to closing these high schools, such as selling off the central office downtown for extra cash, placing community resources like health clinics in the unused wings of buildings with low enrollment, and committing to having high schools with small populations.

After the meeting, another parent, who did not want to be named, said she has very little idea about where her three children, in grades 11, 9, and 8, will go if Northwest closes. Her family immigrated from Nigeria last year, and she speaks limited English.

She said she currently walks her children to school, but appeared confused about how they would get to another school if Northwest closes – she doesn’t have a car to drive them to a school in another district, and she was unaware that IPS plans to provide buses to take students downtown.

The parent, and her older daughter who attended the meeting but does not go to Northwest, said Northwest is popular among the other families who live in their neighborhood, including many who came to the United States from Nigeria and other countries.

“Everybody goes to Northwest,” the daughter said. “… When we moved in, they said, come here, because they really liked this school.”

Census data show that nearly a quarter of residents in Northwest’s ZIP code area were born in other countries, and 35 percent speak a language other than English at home – about three times the rates in Indianapolis overall. IPS also plans to move its newcomer program, for recent immigrant students who don’t speak English, to Northwest if it converts to a middle school.

The mother said her children are doing well and they like their teachers; she does too. But despite her desire to keep her children at Northwest for high school, when asked if she would protest the closing at the school board meeting next week, she simply shook her head.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that fact that Stand for Children Indiana no longer donates directly to school board campaigns. The group does endorse and campaign on behalf of candidates. The update also clarifies that Stand often advocates for innovation schools. 

new schools

New $85 million Englewood high school to focus on science and technology, careers

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

Chicago Public Schools announced Monday that it will open a “state-of-the-art” high school focusing on career-preparation and math, science and engineering education in Englewood, a South Side community where the district is closing several high schools.

Englewood STEM High School already under construction, will open next fall with just freshman and add a grade each subsequent year until it becomes a full-fledged 9-12 school in the 2022-23 school year, according to a press release issued by the school district.

The school will be the district’s ninth “early college” STEM high school, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The district is building the $85 million school on the site of Robeson High School, which was closed over the summer.

Englewood STEM High School will be “a brand new, state-of-the-art, three-story facility that will include world-class multipurpose educational spaces, a modern outdoor sports facility, and a school-based medical center for use by both students as well as community residents,” according to the district’s statement. Students will be able to earn college credits and certificates through a partnership with Kennedy-King College. The school will also offer vocational programs in information technology and health sciences and will provide mentoring, internships and other work experiences.

“We are thrilled to bring together Englewood students in the state-of-the-art high school they deserve with world-class academic programming that will ensure the new school rivals the city’s best,” district CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

The school is intended to attract students in the Robeson, Hope and Harper school areas who leave their neighborhoods for higher-rated schools elsewhere. Both Hope and Harper are slated to close. TEAM Englewood, the fourth school closing, doesn’t have attendance boundaries.

The district named Conrad Timbers-Ausar as the new school’s principal. Timbers-Ausar was previously principal of charter school Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, in Bronzeville. He was the founding principal at two alternative schools, Ombudsman West and Ombudsman South, and has taught history, graphic design and entrepreneurship at the Chicago International Charter Schools Ralph Ellison campus, where he was twice voted teacher of the year.

Future of Schools

Chicago’s public school system is still shrinking, new data shows

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Charles Wiriawan

After 15 years of consecutive drops, the number of students enrolled in Chicago’s public schools fell again this year.

Enrollment dropped 2.7 percent, to 361,314 students, from the previous fall, according to a count taken on the 20th day of school. New data were released Friday. (The district also released new school ratings on Friday. You can find your school’s latest rating here.)

Size matters, because the number of students determines how many critical state dollars a district receives. In Chicago, state funding accounts for roughly 30 percent of the district budget, including paying into the employee pension fund.

At the school level, per-student funding determines how many teachers a principal can hire, whether or not there are librarians and arts teachers, and how many programs are offered. Principals received this school year’s budgets last spring based on prior year counts.

Schools that lost students will not lose funding for this year; however, 54 schools that anticipated growth and that did not hit targets will lose money. The average adjustment per school is $59,000, with $3.2 million in total forfeited, the district said. The district said in a statement that it will not eliminate any jobs as a result.

On the flip side, the district also announced that schools that gained students since last school year would receive additional funding — to total $15.5 million across 307 schools. That’s to account for budgeting that was based on previous year counts.

“The district’s improved financial position means we can support growing schools and invest more in schools where enrollment is declining with funds specifically designed to support schools that are underenrolled,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson.

Plans to support schools losing population include such assists as a $10 million small schools fund and a new underenrolled schools policy — passed by the board this week — that codifies alternatives to closure.

The number of students in Chicago charters declined by 1 percent to total 54,569, and the number of prekindergarten students dropped by less than 1 percent, too, to 17,668, despite a citywide push under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Chicago schools aren’t the only ones shrinking. Enrollment is down across the state. A declining birth rate, fewer immigrants, and a population in retrenchment are all to blame.

District projections show Chicago schools losing another 20,000 students across the next three years. The trends mirror population drops in Chicago, which has about 182,000 fewer residents than it did 18 years ago, according to U.S. Census data. More than 220,000 black residents have left the city since the year 2000.