School Closings

Breaking: High school teachers across Indianapolis Public Schools may need to reapply for their jobs

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

High school teachers across Indianapolis Public Schools may need to reapply for their jobs as part of a district-wide reconfiguration.

That includes teachers at high schools that are remaining open as well as those at schools that will close at the end of this year. The plan was announced to teachers yesterday, less than 24 hours after the IPS board approved a proposal to close three high schools.

The goal is to make sure that teachers are well matched with their schools, said Mindy Schlegel, who heads human resources for the district. Even schools that remain open will dramatically change under the high school reconfiguration plan, she said. They will have new specialized magnet academies and, potentially, new leaders.

“We really wanted to give teachers the opportunity to learn more,” she said, “and find the right fit for them.”

Teachers may not get their first choice position because school leaders will be able to interview and select teachers. But the district doesn’t expect any teachers to lose their jobs, Schlegel said.

But while Schlegel framed the decision as a move to help teachers find jobs they like, union leader Rhondalyn Cornett was concerned it could push educators to leave the district.

“This is like a total disruption at one time,” Cornett said.

Since the announcement, Cornett has received dozens of texts and emails from concerned teachers. Teachers say they feel like they have sacrificed because they love the district, and now they are being treated like they are pawns, she said.

“I mean,” she added, “why wouldn’t they feel like that?”

Under the high school reconfiguration plan approved Monday, Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School will close. The Northwest and Arlington high school campuses will be converted to middle schools.

Four high schools will remain open: Crispus Attucks, Shortridge, George Washington and Arsenal Technical high schools.

Teachers will have a chance to learn more about the programs and leadership at each high school in October or November, Schlegel said. Then, the human resources department will schedule interviews for teachers at their first choice schools.

“Closing four buildings is a big shakeup, so I’m not sure that we can avoid so much disruption,” she said. “We are really trying to handhold teachers through this process so they land in the right spot.”

Some teachers won’t need to go through the transfer process, including those who have received special training to teach International Baccalaureate courses, arts specialists, life skills teachers and career and technical teachers. Schlegel said some of those educators may switch buildings, but they will stay in the same positions.

Teachers in core content areas, such as English and math, however, will need to go through the application process even if they wish to stay at their current campus.

School Closings

An Indianapolis high school doubled in size after 3 schools closed. Here’s how it’s coping.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Orchestra and other music offerings have expanded at Shortridge.

In the hours before the first week at Shortridge High School came to a close, about 20 students in the advanced choir class were dashing back and forth across the room. On one side of the classroom, the aim was to guess which student held the key. On the other, it was to pass the key in secret.

For teacher Daria Weingartner, however, the goal of this game had little to do with singing. Rather, it was about bringing together a class with students who’ve come from high schools across the city.

Last school year, Shortridge had fewer than 450 students. This fall, enrollment swelled to more than 1,000, following the closure of three of Indianapolis Public School’s other high school campuses. As a result, Shortridge educators like Weingartner spent their first week trying to build a sense of community at a school where about two-thirds of students are new — including many of the upperclassmen in the advanced choir class.

“It’s OK that we’re all coming from different places,” Weingartner said. “But we’re here now, and we need to build that sense of community and family.”

Weingartner herself is new to Shortridge. She’s been teaching for seven years, but last year, she worked at Warren Central High School.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
The Shortridge choir was focused on community building games Friday afternoon.

When Shortridge Principal Shane O’Day learned last fall that the historic midtown high school would stay open and three other district high schools would close, he almost immediately began looking for more teachers. At high schools across the district, 418 educators were displaced during the restructuring. Over the past several months, Shortridge — preparing to welcome hundreds more students and to house Broad Ripple High School’s displaced arts programs — hired about 60 new staff members, O’Day said.

This fall, the school added classes in some subjects, such as dance, sculpture, and photography, and it expanded offerings in others, such as music and theater.

The change is part of a broad restructuring that is transforming high schools in the state’s largest district. Last year, Indianapolis Public Schools officials shuttered three of the seven campuses in the district. The redesign was intended to help the district save money, by closing underused campuses and creating larger schools, and to improve academic quality at the four remaining schools. The district also added new focus areas — such as health sciences, business, and construction — eliminated neighborhood boundaries for high school, and encouraged students to choose schools based on their interests.

The changes at high schools could be just the beginning for the district, which may soon be forced to close more than a dozen additional schools to save money.

Shortridge expanded from a dedicated magnet for International Baccalaureate, which allows students to earn college credits in high school. It continues to offer I.B. diplomas, but there are also students focusing on the arts. Students can take courses in both focus areas, regardless their specialization, according to O’Day.

Ultimately, Shortridge staff are focused on creating a school culture that is welcoming of students regardless of where they come from, O’Day said.

“When we talk about culture, it’s a lot of listening,” he said. “When you allow students themselves to share their stories — talk about their backgrounds, their passions, their interests, their hopes, what they want to do to make their world a better place — that’s exciting.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Shortridge is expanding arts offerings, including by offering dance classes.

Sophomore Shayna Bailey is one of the students who will likely benefit from the school’s increasingly diverse academic offerings. A self-described “choir and drama girl” in Weingartner’s choir class, Bailey is also in her second year in the Shortridge I.B. program.

This year, the school is a lot more crowded, she said. But “I’m a very social person, so it just means a lot more friends for me,” Bailey said. “I get to learn more things about new people.”

For the students who are new to the school, the transition can be more challenging.

Senior Marqueshia Allen was so nervous about her first day at Shortridge, she thought about skipping altogether. She had been a student at Broad Ripple High School since she was in sixth grade. She was devastated when that school was closed and she realized she would have to transfer for her senior year.

But Allen was determined to find the good in her new school. By Friday of her first week, she was at ease at Shortridge.

What stands out is how welcoming teachers and students have been, she said. “Everybody is so open. They are willing to help you out,” Allen said. “It’s actually been amazing.”

new schools

Neighbors at odds heading into Near South High School hearing

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Elisabeth Greer, a parent and leader at the National Teachers Academy, speaking at a press conference in June about parents' lawsuit to stop CPS from displacing NTA with a new high school.

On Tuesday, Near South Side residents divided over the opening of a high school on the site of a popular elementary school have a chance to let district officials know how they feel about new attendance boundaries.

The 1,200 student Near South High School would open for the 2019-20 school year by the corner of State Street and Cermak Road, displacing National Teachers Academy, a top-ranked, mostly African-American elementary school whose supporters recently sued to halt Chicago Public Schools’ plans. The lawsuit alleges that the decision to close NTA violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

Members of the Gap community, a northeastern stretch of Bronzeville, had been left out of the proposed high school plan. But on Friday, CPS released an updated boundary map that included the attendance area for Pershing Elementary School, a neighborhood school serving Gap families.

“We’re pleased that they’ve listened to our outcry that we wanted to be included,” said Leonard McGee, president of the GAP Community Organization, which supports the new high school. “We’re still pushing until the board vote is done; anything can happen, we’re not resting on our laurels thinking it’s a done deal.”

He said his organization was “petitioning for children who aren’t even born, for kids who don’t even live in the area yet.”

“We’re looking at this high school as an opportunity for kids who aren’t even born yet to have access to a quality education, and that’s all it’s about,” he said, adding that the school would provide a high-quality option in a racially integrated setting.

At a public hearing last month, residents griped that the school would only serve 1,200 students, saying the need was greater and expressing fears of overcrowding. In a statement emailed to Chalkbeat Chicago, CPS said it determined that the boundary changes could be done without risking overcrowding. CPS spokesman Michael Passman said families “in the Near South Community,” have wanted a high-quality high school for years, and that the district is focused on opening the new high school to as many families as possible.

“We are pleased to be able to provide more Near South families with guaranteed access to a high-quality continuum of schools from pre-K through high school, and we look forward to continuing to work with the community to ensure the new school meets the needs of all local families,” Passman said.

But the boundary change doesn’t satisfy National Teachers Academy parents who are suing the district to stop the school’s closure, said Elisabeth Greer, chair of the academy’s Local School Council and the parent of two students at the school.

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
Proposed boundaries for Near South High School. Families living in boundaries for Armor and Holden Elementary schools will receive preference for available seats, according to CPS.

Greer called the new boundaries “CPS’ sad attempt to try to garner more support for this plan” among black parents on the Near South Side.

“This is a decision by CPS to listen to some voices in the community but not others,” Greer said, claiming that the “thousands” who support keeping National Teachers Academy open dwarf neighborhood proponents of the new high school. “This is what CPS does, pit communities against each other. It’s been primarily African-Americans who have stood up against this plan, and this is an attempt to split the black community and get some African-Americans to [support CPS].”

McGee disagreed, characterizing Greer’s statement as “trying to divide the community itself.”

“I’m not getting into why CPS did what they did,” he said. “I’m only advocating for what’s a good educational opportunity for people in the neighborhood.”

But, Greer wants to be clear: “We are not at war with each other in the community.”

“We don’t plan to go in tomorrow night and be angry with the Gap community, we’re going to be there to talk to our neighbors,” she said. “We shouldn’t be fighting over scraps, we should be demanding that our community deserves something bigger and better like a new high school from the ground up.”

While Leonard also said he’d be at the meeting to hear from other concerned community members, he takes issue with Greer’s framing, particularly the word “scraps.”

“Let me have my scraps, and let me decide the value of them,” he said. “In fact, to say that is an insult to me and my community.”

Last month at a public hearing, National Teachers Academy supporters spoke against the project, while residents of Chinatown spoke in favor, arguing that they’ve pushed the district for years for an open-enrollment high school in the area and expressing concerns about the quality and safety of current neighborhood schools.

But at the Chicago Board of Education meeting on July 23, at least one Chinatown community leader blasted CPS.Debbie Liu of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community mentioned Chinatown’s long history of advocating for a high school, but said CPS has gone about meeting those demands the wrong way.

“A 1,200-student capacity is only a stopgap measure compared to projected growth in Chinatown and nearby communities,” she said. “The turmoil we have in the Near South could have been prevented with a more transparent, long-term, equitable planning process.”

Some of the areas zoned for the new high school currently feed Phillips High School, which is under-enrolled, according to CPS.

Community residents will have a chance to chime in about the updated boundary on Tuesday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 S. Michigan Ave.