School Closings

Northwest students plead with Indianapolis Public Schools to keep their school open

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Latashiana Garrett, a student at Northwest High School, spoke to the Indianapolis Public Schools board.

Students at Northwest are not letting their high school close without a fight.

About 150 students, parents and community members sat in the vast auditorium for a meeting of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board Thursday. Some teens were decked out in cheerleading uniforms, with pom poms at their feet. Others wore the camouflage of the junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Several went to the microphone to plead for their school.

It was the fourth and last board meeting at a school that is slated to close under a proposal from the IPS administration. If it is approved, Northwest and Arlington high schools will be converted to middle schools and Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School will close. Northwest, which is in one of the city’s most diverse areas, would also house the newcomer program for students who are just beginning to learn English. The board is expected to vote in September.

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

Andrea Newson, parent and alumna

“I am here on behalf of my son who is a sophomore at Northwest High School. I am also a graduate of Northwest class of 2001. My brother is also a graduate.

“I am here because we love Northwest. I am simply here to ask you all to reconsider. We have been in this community for over 20 years and Northwest has always been a safe place not only for myself but for my son as well.

“My son is more successful now in his high school career than he has been. This is his second year of high school, and it is my hope that he will be able to walk across this stage for the graduating class of 2020.”

Zhy’yon Hoover, student

“I’ve been a student here since I was in 8th grade. What you hear on the outside doesn’t reflect what’s going on on the inside.

“Once I got here, I realized I wanted to stay here. I want to graduate here. My grandmother graduated here. My mother graduated here. And I want to be the next graduate.

“This is my high school. This is our high school.”

Patricia Starks, parent

“My son has been here since the 7th grade. He is an A and B honor roll (student). He’s also on ROTC doing excellent.

“We moved here from Gary, Indiana. Since he’s been here, he’s been improving a whole lot. The teachers know him. The teachers know myself and my husband. To take this away from him would be devastating.

“He’s a junior. He doesn’t want to go to another school for his senior year. This is important to him. It’s important to me.

“We’re doing everything that we have to do to make sure that our children achieve. But if y’all take that away from us, where are they going to go? We will probably lose most of them dropping out of school. ”

Latashiana Garrett, student

“I’ve been here since my sophomore year.

“I’m just a kid. I’m just a teenager, but this is a lot to me because this is my last year. I’m going to walk this stage. Kids — this is their dream. They’re looking forward to walking, and they won’t have that opportunity just because.

“I just don’t think it’s fair. They are going to be sent to a school where they are not welcome. I just don’t think you should do it.”

while you were sleeping

Bronx transfer school is shuttered after late-night vote, a first for Chancellor Carranza

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Supporters of Crotona Academy protested against the city's plans to close it at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

Chancellor Richard Carranza’s introduction to New York City continued Wednesday with an eight hour meeting in which teachers and students desperately pled for their school not to be closed, only to have the city school board vote to shutter it.

Even after hearing a musical performance from students hoping to keep Crotona Academy open, the Panel for Educational Policy voted around 1 a.m. Thursday to shutter the Bronx high school that serves students who have struggled at traditional high schools.

Some of the school’s supporters appealed directly to Carranza, arguing that he should reconsider proposals created under his predecessor, Carmen Fariña.

“You see how many people are here right now — people want this school open,” said Dallas Joseph, a 17-year-old student at the school. He noted that the school offers lots of individualized attention and set him up with a job at an after-school program. “They gave us a different type of opportunity.”

It’s an argument that supporters of the city’s “transfer” high schools, which serve students who have fallen behind in credits at traditional schools and are likely to be at risk of dropping out, have long made when the city has called attention to their low performance. Advocates for the schools have long pointed out that looking at graduation rates and test scores is not the best way to assess their value, and in the past, city officials have withdrawn closure proposals for transfer schools that they said were doing better than performance data suggested.

Indeed, Crotona’s supporters said traditional statistics mask the school’s successes. Former students said the school helped them get to graduation despite falling behind at other high schools. And staffers pointed out the school serves an unusually vulnerable population.

“Our population is among the most at-risk in the city,” said Nicholas Rivera, a staff member at the school.

Their argument did not fly overnight. City officials said Crotona is too low-performing to stay open and that other transfer schools in the Bronx have enough space to absorb its students. The school’s 45 percent graduation rate puts it among the bottom third of all transfer schools, according to education department documents, and just 1 percent of the students who graduated last school year were considered “college-ready.”

“We take the decision to close a school extremely seriously, and we only propose closure when it’s in the best interest of students and families,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman wrote in an email. “The students at Crotona Academy can be better served by one of the stronger transfer schools in the Bronx.”

Carranza did not comment as the panel debated the proposal or another contentious one to merge two other Bronx transfer schools: Bedford Stuyvesant Preparatory High School and Brooklyn Academy High School. Nor did he comment on the decisions after they were made around 1 a.m.

The final vote on both proposals was 7-5, with mayoral appointees voting in favor, and all five borough representatives voting no. (While Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would let his appointees vote as they wished, he recently replaced a mayoral appointee who voted against a city proposal.)

The panel also voted to merge six other schools — a process that some school communities often experience as de facto closures.

  • Holcombe L. Rucker and Longwood Preparatory Academy, both part of the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program for low-performing schools.
  • Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies and East Flatbush Community Research School, in Brooklyn
  • Aspirations Diploma Plus High School and W.E.B. Dubois Academic High School, also transfer schools, in Brooklyn

sorting the students

Facing closure, some Memphis parents hope to form K-8 school, but others aren’t sold

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A community group proposed combining Manor Lake Elementary and Geeter Middle School, but elementary parents aren't convinced.

About 35 frustrated parents and teachers from Manor Lake Elementary School made it clear to district officials in a recent meeting that they don’t want their school merged with a nearby middle school.

The reaction from Manor Lake parents dashed hopes that a proposal from other parents to combine the school with Geeter Middle School would gain support.

The parents who made the proposal are part of a larger leadership group representing the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, which both schools will enter next year. Also in that group are students, teachers, and community leaders who represent a cluster of low-performing neighborhood schools.

Shelby County Schools officials had hoped that a proposal generated by parents would help win support from other parents in the neighborhood because parents rarely support closing a school.

Some of the parents at Manor Lake told district officials they fear the influence of older students if their school is combined with Geeter.

The district hopes that if the schools in that zone work together, test scores will improve. Parent and community leaders said the consolidation would stave off closure by the district, which would scatter students to other elementary schools outside the neighborhood.

District leaders saw the move as a way to avoid state takeover by combining resources into one building, allowing them to direct more money to improving academic performance. Both Manor Lake Elementary and Geeter Middle feed into Fairley High School, a charter school under the state-run Achievement School District.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Vincent Hunter, principal of Whitehaven High School and leader of the Empowerment Zone, addresses Manor Lake Elementary parents.

“If we sit back and do nothing and are not aggressive in our treatment, then now we become victims or potential victims of the ASD,” said Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School and leader of the Empowerment Zone.

Manor Lake teacher Lisa Chalmers said even though the proposal would allow students to stick together, she was worried about the blight of another empty building in an area that has experienced many school closures in recent years.

“I know they [the state] want our schools. But we want our schools too,” she said.

District leaders described the school’s declining test scores, poor building condition, and low enrollment as other reasons for combining the schools, which are both at risk of closure. Teachers in the audience attributed the lack of academic growth to adding students from at least two schools that had been closed in recent years.

Either way, the schools will face disruption going into next school year. As part of entering the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone next year, all teachers at both schools will have to re-apply to their positions — a common practice among turnaround programs.

The meeting last week was the second convened by district leaders after Superintendent Dorsey Hopson presented the proposal to the school board last month. Parents said the proposal came as a surprise and that they didn’t know about the first meeting held soon after Hopson’s announcement.

Proponents of combining elementary and middle grades say if students change schools fewer times between kindergarten and 12th grade, they perform better on tests. But studies on the topic are mixed. A 2011 University of Minnesota review of relevant studies said more research is needed to be definitive.

Sherrie Jackson, who despite not living in Manor Lake’s boundary chose the school for her two children, called the idea “ludicrous” because she didn’t want her rising kindergartner to be in the same building as eighth graders.

“What if one of these small children get hurt with those big kids over there?” she asked. “The more kids you have in the school, the less one-on-one time they get.”

Hunter said elementary and middle school students would be on separate floors of the building, a similar set up to the district’s 13 other K-8 schools.

“The only thing that’s going to make you feel totally better is when you see it and live it,” he told Jackson during the meeting. Still, Jackson and others said they would take their students elsewhere if the district goes through with the proposal.

“I’m just going to have to look around, probably transfer her, see where I can find a school for her to go to that’s K through fifth grade,” said Kimeri Golden, whose daughter is a third-grader at Manor Lake, after the meeting.

The school board is scheduled to give its final vote on the proposal at its regular meeting in April.