School Closings

Hired: Indianapolis Public Schools chooses principals to help ‘reinvent’ high schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indianapolis Public Schools went on a hiring spree Thursday, selecting principals for the four high schools that will remain open next fall and a new chief of staff.

Four current IPS leaders will take the helm at its high schools next year — three of whom will remain at schools they now lead. The district interviewed several external candidates and increased the salary cap for principals to $150,000 per year as part of a school reconfiguration that included closing three high schools. The principals chosen are:

  • Shane O’Day will remain as principal of Shortridge High School,
  • Lauren Franklin will remain as principal of Crispus Attucks High School,
  • Stan Law, who is currently principal at Arlington High School, will take over at George Washington High School, and
  • Lloyd Bryant, who took over as interim principal at Arsenal Technical High School when Julie Bakehorn was abruptly removed, will become the permanent principal at the school.

“They have the ability to lead the academy model and do it really well,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “I’m excited about their leadership, and I look forward to them sharing their vision with students and families.”

The board also approved hiring Ahmed Young as chief of staff. A former teacher and lawyer by training, Young previously oversaw charter schools for Mayor Joe Hogsett.

As IPS chief of staff, Young will work on both academic and operational oversight. Ferebee said that Young will take on some of the responsibilities of Wanda Legrand and David Rosenberg, two top administrators who recently left the district. But the district may hire an additional staffer as well.

“He’s a very talented guy, and he’s shown that in his work in the mayor’s office,” Ferebee said. “We are really fortunate to have him on the team.”

Young will be paid $150,000 per year. Three of the principals — Law, O’Day and Franklin — will be paid $125,000 per year, at least $20,000 more than each currently makes. Principal Bryant, who will lead the largest school, will be paid $140,000 per year, up from his current salary of $110,000 per year.

The four principals will also be paid additional stipends this year to plan for the academies and hire teachers in the coming months.

The principals will lead their schools through a significant transition as the district switches to an all magnet high school model in 2018-2019, branded as “reinventing” high schools. Each school will have academies with focus areas such as the performing arts, health sciences and information technology. Instead of choosing a high school by location, students will be expected to select an academy based on their interests.

Last week, the board voted to close three high schools after months of contentious meetings over the proposal. Arlington, Northwest and Broad Ripple high schools will close at the end of this year. The move follows decades of shrinking enrollment as the district loses students to suburban, charter and private schools.

Transition plan

Students at one Memphis elementary school may relocate during construction

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Students demonstrate ancient Chinese martial arts during a showcase for parents at the end of Shelby County Schools' 2017 summer learning academy at Alcy Elementary School.

Students at Alcy Elementary School in South Memphis likely won’t be staying put during construction of their new school.

It’s also possible that the new building won’t be ready until January of 2020 instead of the fall of 2019 as originally planned.

School board members will vote in the coming months on whether to temporarily relocate Alcy students to Magnolia Elementary. The original plan was to stay in the current building until a replacement is built on another part of Alcy’s campus.

“Our construction staff said there wasn’t enough land to build the new school and operate the old school with parking lot and dropoffs and do it all safely,” explained Billy Orgel, who chairs the board’s facilities committee for Shelby County Schools.

Orgel’s panel reviewed the construction schedule on Monday with facility staff members for the district.

The new $19 million building will merge students from Alcy, Magnolia, and Charjean elementary schools. Eventually, the old Alcy building will be demolished, while the other two school buildings will be leveled or sold. It’s all part of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to close, build, and consolidate seven schools into three new ones, similar to an earlier project at Westhaven Elementary.

Board members mulled the possibility of relocating Alcy students in January to stay on construction schedule but opted to recommend a move at the end of the school year — a decision that would push construction back by about six months.

“It’s more orderly for everyone to have the summer to prepare rather than the holidays,” Orgel said.

Students at Goodlett Elementary, another school in Hopson’s consolidation plan, will stay in their current building while a new one is built nearby. The new school will bring in students from Knight Road Elementary, along with some from Sheffield and Getwell elementary schools. Knight Road is be demolished later.

After the Alcy and Goodlett projects, the next construction phase calls for a new K-12 Woodstock school that would merge with Lucy and Northaven elementary schools.

Struggling Detroit schools

Scores of Detroit schools are empty eyesores. Here’s why it’s so hard to bring them back to life.

PHOTO: Anna Clark
Blackboards in the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School still hold memories. The school closed in 2009.

The school building that Detroit Prep founder Kyle Smitley is trying — and struggling — to buy for her charter school is far from the only one sitting empty across the city.

A wave of about 200 school closures since 2000 has pockmarked the city with large, empty, often architecturally significant buildings. Some closed schools were repurposed, most often as charter schools; others were torn down. But most remain vacant, although the exact number is unclear.

Vacant schools can become crime hubs or crumbling dangers. But even if that doesn’t happen, they are disheartening reminders of Detroit’s struggle to prioritize education for its children — at the heart of communities where good schools could make a big difference.

Most residents would like to see the buildings come back to life, if not as schools, as something. But even as developers rework other vacant structures, these school buildings are rarely repurposed.

Understanding why illuminates the complexities facing Detroit’s main school district’s effort to get itself back on track.

For one, school district policies — some of which were created to discourage flipping and the opening of charter schools  —  have made selling these buildings difficult.

Smitley, the co-founder of two charter schools, wants to move Detroit Prep into the former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School by fall 2018. Detroit Prep opened in 2016 in the basement of an Indian Village church and will eventually serve 430 K-8 students.

“We’d like to be part of a positive story for Detroit, and turn a decrepit building back into a school that serves the neighborhood,” Smitley said.

Smitley is preparing to do a $4 million rehab on a building where flaking paint litters the hardwood floors. Lockers gape open. Natural sunlight floods classrooms where instructions from the last day of school are still chalked on the blackboard: “Spelling Test … George Washington Carver Reading – Timed  … Clean Desks … Take Books.”

Landlord Dennis Kefallinos bought the former Joyce school from the public school district in 2014 for $600,000. The general manager of Kefallinos’ company told Chalkbeat that they planned to repurpose it for residential use when the market seemed right, or wait a few more years to re-sell it for a large profit.

But another challenge of repurposing schools is that their complex layouts and their residential locations far from downtown do not easily adapt to other uses. And the market for former school buildings was flooded with closed public and parochial schools in recent years, which further reduced demand.  

Some developers have transformed empty Detroit schools into apartments, luxury condominiums, or a boutique office building. However, these were former Catholic schools, or, in the case of Leland Lofts, sold to a private developer more than 35 years ago. Catholic schools generally have smaller footprints, which are more manageable to renovate, and they do not have the same deed restrictions as more recently closed public schools.

PHOTO: Anna Clark
The former Anna M. Joyce Elementary School in Detroit closed in 2009.

In the case of Joyce school, Smitley’s persistence and the intervention of a mutual friend convinced the Kefallinos company to sell to Detroit Prep. She agreed to buy the building for $750,000, and to pay the district $75,000 on top of the sales price, per a condition in the original deed.

But the status of the sale is uncertain, as she and the district spar over the law and whether the district can halt the sale of the building — which it no longer owns.

On the northwest side of Detroit,  two Detroiters have been trying for years to buy the former Cooley High School to turn it into a community center, as part of the much-lauded Cooley ReUse Project. This summer, it was crowdfunding the last $10,000 it needed to finally become Cooley’s owners.

But on August 31, the project’s social media account announced that “after meeting with Detroit Public Schools Community District’s (DPSCD) new leadership, it has been confirmed that Thomas M. Cooley High School is no longer for sale. We were told that Cooley will be secured and redeveloped by its current owner, DPSCD.”

Donations are being returned to the contributors. In the meantime, the 322,000-square-foot building is vulnerable to theft and vandalism, destabilizing its northwest Detroit neighborhood.

The Cooley and Joyce schools were built when Detroit schools faced a different challenge: capacity. They opened during the fast-moving period between 1910 and 1930 when 180 new schools were built to keep up with growth. In 1966, the district peaked with 299,962 students. Since then, it has shrunk to fewer than 50,000 students.

No matter who owns a closed school building, its revival depends on its security. Failure to secure it results in profound damage by scrappers, criminals, and natural elements. That will either add millions to the cost of rehabilitation or doom it to demolition. It also threatens the neighborhood.

John Grover co-authored a major Loveland report, spending 18 months investigating 200 years of archives about public schools in Detroit, and visiting every school in the city.

Boarding vacant schools with plywood isn’t enough, he learned. As its buildings were continually vandalized, the district escalated security with welded steel doors and cameras, though even these are vulnerable. Securing a building properly costs about $100,000 upfront, and $50,000 per year ever after, according to the Loveland report. In 2007, it cost the district more than $1.5 million a year to maintain empty buildings.

Chris Mihailovich, general manager of Dennis Kefallinos’ company, said that it hasn’t been cheap to own the empty Joyce building. Taxes are high, security is expensive, grass has to be mowed in summer and snow has to be shoveled in winter.

The Joyce school is in better condition than most, which Grover credits to its dense neighborhood. “At least up until a few years ago, a retired cop lived across the street, and he watched the block and would call in if he saw anything,” Grover said.

But he remembered the fate of one elementary school in east Detroit that was in a stable neighborhood when it closed.

“It became like a hotbed for prostitution and drug dealing,” he said. “There were mattresses stacked in the gymnasium. It definitely had a negative impact on the neighborhood. … I can’t imagine people would want to live around that, and those who could get out did.”