School Closings

‘You hate to see it end so soon’: Arlington High School has its final last day of school

PHOTO: Shelby Mullis
Hallways at Arlington High School are empty after the last day of school Thursday. The school is one of three Indianapolis high schools closing.

The hallways, lined with vacant green lockers, are quiet. The classrooms, once filled by eager high school students, are empty. The auditorium of Arlington High School will soon be consumed with graduating seniors and proud parents.

Thursday was the last day of school for Indianapolis Public Schools. But for students at Arlington High School, it’s a little more final: It’s one of three high schools closing this year as part of a district-wide consolidation.

“It is very bittersweet,” Arlington principal Stan Law said. “You always have to embrace change because it’s a constant, but at the same time, when you pour sweat and tears into building something we built here at Arlington, you hate to see it end so soon. ”

He said the hardest part of the transition will be leaving his students.

“Some of the students will go elsewhere,” said Law, who has been principal there since 2015. “You’ve built relationships with them, with their families. You won’t necessarily see them next year. ”

For Arlington, the closure is the finale of a rocky history over the last six years. It was taken over by the Indiana State Board of Education in 2012 after six years of F grades under Indiana’s A-F grading system, briefly run by a charter operator assigned to turn it around, and returned to the district in 2015.

Now it joins a list of three other district schools closing this year, including Northwest High School, Broad Ripple High School, and John Marshall Middle School. Arlington and Northwest will reopen as middle schools and places for additional services, such as the newcomer program and a night high school.

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board voted to close the schools last September because the district had more than twice as many seats in high schools as students to fill them.

The district estimated it could save more than $7 million by eliminating empty seats and reconfiguring schools.

About 5,000 high school students in the district will be combined at the four remaining campuses — Shortridge High School, Arsenal Technical High School, George Washington High School, and Crispus Attucks High School.

All four remaining schools will be specialized college and career academies in subjects such as business, the arts, and information technology. Students will choose a new school based on a  subject area that interests them. They will complete this program alongside their traditional classwork.

Mareon Sneed will start his senior year this fall at George Washington High School — nearly 15 miles west of Arlington. He had only been at Arlington for a year after moving to Indianapolis from Muskegon, Michigan.

He was still adjusting to a new life at Arlington, so choosing another new high school didn’t come easy.

Sneed chose to follow his former principal to George Washington. Law will take over there as principal, replacing Emily Butler. This is Law’s 17th year in a district leadership position.

“It was hard at first,” Sneed said. “But it eventually got easier because I realized I didn’t want to leave the new friends I made and the new people I’ve met. I didn’t want to start all over.”

PHOTO: Shelby Mullis
Juniors Leyha Jones, Brennon Sneed and Mareon Sneed pose in the nearly-vacant Arlington High School library. Arlington is one of three Indianapolis high schools closing after Thursday.

For Brennon Sneed, Mareon’s cousin, the decision of a new school comes at a more personal cost. Brennon Sneed has been Law’s student since seventh grade. Now, the two are parting ways.

He said Law and other administrators had a large impact on his life. Sometimes they would pull him aside to talk when they saw him making bad decisions.

“They helped me grow into a better person,” he said. “I’d be in trouble somewhere if I didn’t have anybody tell me not to do this or not to do that.”

Brennon Sneed will finish his high school career at Lawrence North High School where he’ll play football. Football and academics were deciding factors in his decision to enroll there, he said.

Leyha Jones, a junior, said she has until July to decide what school she wants to attend this fall. She is basing her decision off what she hopes to do in the future and the programs each school offers, whether it be law or media communications.

“It’s just difficult leaving family because you’ve built a relationship with the administrators and friends and different people you meet,” Jones said. “It’s difficult to leave them and go to a different school where you barely know people, especially during our senior year. It’s the most important year. It’s difficult starting all over.”

Correction: June 7, 2018: A previous version of this story said Mareon Sneed and Brennon Sneed are not related. They are cousins.

another path

‘They’re my second family.’ Largest Pathways to Graduation class earn their diplomas

Jasmine Byrd receives an award for excellence after giving a speech to her fellow graduates.

Before last fall, Jasmine Byrd never envisioned herself striding across the stage to receive a diploma at a graduation ceremony.

But then Byrd moved to the Bronx from Utah and entered New York City’s Pathways to Graduation program, which helps 17- to 21-year-olds who didn’t graduate from a traditional high school earn a High School Equivalency Diploma by giving them free resources and support.

Just walking into this space and being like, this is what you’ve accomplished and this is what you’ve worked hard for is a great feeling,” said Byrd, who also credits the program with helping her snag a web development internship. “I’ve built my New York experience with this program. They’re my second family, sometimes my first when I needed anything.”

Byrd is one of about 1,700 students to graduate during the 2017-2018 school year from Pathways, the program’s largest graduating class to date, according to officials.  

This year, students from 102 countries and 41 states graduated from Pathways, which is part of District 79, the education department district overseeing programs for older students who have had interrupted schooling.

The program also saw the most students ever participate in its graduation ceremony, a joyful celebration held this year at the Bronx United Palace Theater. According to Robert Evans, a math teacher at one of the program’s five boroughwide sites and emcee of the graduation, about 600 students typically show up to walk the stage. But students can be a part of the ceremony even if they received their passing test results that morning, and this year more than 800 graduates attended.

There were still students coming in last night to take photos and to pick up their sashes and gowns,” said Evans.

The graduation ceremony is unique in part because the program is. Students who have not completed high school attend classes to prepare to take the high school equivalency exam. But the program also prepares students to apply for college, attend vocational school, or enter the workforce by providing help applying for colleges, creating resumes and other coaching.

To make sure that the program is accessible to all students, there’s a main site in every borough and 92 satellite sites, located in community centers and youth homeless shelters like Covenant House. Students who want to work in the medical field, like Genesis Rocio Rodriguez, can take their courses in hospitals. Rodriguez, who graduated in December, is now enrolled in the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and passing the exam meant being one step closer to her dream of becoming a nurse.

When I got my results I was with my classmate, and to be honest I thought I failed because I was so nervous during it. But then I went online, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I did it!’ My mom started crying and everything.”

Byrd said the program worked for her because of the supportive teachers and extra resources.

“The teachers are relatable,” said Byrd. “They don’t put on an act, they don’t try to separate the person from the teacher. They really reach out, even call you to get you out of bed in the morning.”

Carmine Guirland said the supportive environment of social workers, guidance counselors, and teachers is what attracts him to the work at Bronx NeOn, a site where students who are on probation or who are involved with the court system can prepare for the exam, college, and careers.

When students are on parole they will have really involved [parole officers] who would text me at the beginning of class to check in so that we could work together,” said Guirland. “It’s really about that village thing. The more support systems that are available the more success the students will have.”

Reflecting on his experiences with the graduating class, Guirland’s most treasured memory was when one of his students proposed to his girlfriend in a guidance counseling session. Even though they aren’t together anymore, the moment was a reflection of the relationships that many of the students build during their time at Pathways to Graduation.

“It’s this amazing high moment where this student felt like the most comfortable place for him to propose to his girlfriend and the mother of his child was in our advisory circle,” said Guirland.

New Standards

Tennessee updates science standards for first time in 10 years. New guidelines stress class discussion, inquiry

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Fourth grade science teachers Lamarcus Marks, of Rivercrest Elementary, and Angie Clement, of Bartlett Elementary, test out a lesson on kinetic and potential energy at Arlington High School, one of 11 statewide sites where Tennessee teachers are training for next year's new science standards.

How can a wolf change the river? Why doesn’t a cactus have leaves? Why can’t you exterminate bats in Tennessee?

With new state science standards coming to classrooms next fall, these are the kinds of questions students will explore in their science classes. They’ll be tasked not only with memorizing the answers, but also with asking questions of their own, engaging on the topic with their teacher and classmates, and applying what they learn across disciplines. That’s because the changes set forth are as much about teaching process, as they are about teaching content.

“At the lowest level, I could just teach you facts,” said Detra Clark, who is one of about 300 Tennessee educators leading teacher trainings on the new standards to her peers from across the state. “Now it’s like, ‘I want you to figure out why or how you can use the facts to figure out a problem.’”

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Detra Clark, a science coach in Shelby County’s iZone, demonstrates a sample lesson for sixth grade science teachers.

On Wednesday, Clark — a science coach for the iZone, a group of underperforming schools that Shelby County Schools is looking to turn around — unpacked for her peers, who gathered at Arlington High School, a key component of the new material: three-dimensional modeling. Under three-dimensional modeling, students should be able to do something with the content they learn, not just memorize it.

In recent years, Tennessee students have performed better on state science tests than on their math and English exams. But state science standards for grades K–12 haven’t been updated since 2008. By contrast, math and English benchmarks have undergone more recent changes. To give the stakeholders time to adjust, results from next year’s science test, the first to incorporate the new standards, won’t count for students, teachers, or schools.

At the training session, Clark, standing before a room of sixth-grade science teachers, held up a chart with the names of woodland animals, such as elk and deer. Under each name, she tracked the population over time.

“At our starting population, what do we see?” she asked.

“The deer, it decreases again because it’s introduced to a predator,” a teacher responded.

“More resources, more surviving animals” another teacher chimed in.

“How can we explain what happened in year two, when we’re dealing with students?” Clark asked the group.

“The population went up,” a teacher said.

“They start to reproduce!” another teacher interjected.

Clark nodded.

In another classroom, this one composed of kindergarten teachers, Bridget Davis — a K-2 instructional advisor for Shelby County Schools — clicked through a video of fuzzy critters, each paired with a close relative, such as two different breeds of dogs.

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
In a teacher training session on Wednesday, kindergarten teachers highlight the three dimensions of three-dimensional modeling, a key part of new state science standards.

She encouraged the teachers to ask their students what traits the animals shared.

“The first thing they’re going to say is, ‘Well, one’s big and one’s small,” she said. “What we really want them to say is, ‘Well, their fur is the same color,’ or, ‘Mom has a patch of black hair here and the baby doesn’t.’ We want them to look at detail.”

She added, “We want them to get used to being a detective.”

The science standards that have been in place for the past decade fulfills the first dimension of three-dimensional modeling.

Doing something with that knowledge satisfies the second dimension, and the third dimension requires teachers to apply to their lessons a “cross-cutting concept” — strategies that students can apply to any subject, like identifying patterns or sequences.

Under the existing standards, a student may not have been introduced to physical science until the third grade. But starting next year, Tennessee schoolchildren will learn about life science, physical science, earth and space science, and engineering applications, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school.

“I do believe that this is the best our standards have ever been, because of the fact that they are so much more detailed than they have been in the past,” Davis said.

About a thousand Shelby County teachers made their way to trainings this week, which were free and open to all educators. Several administrators also met to discuss ways they can ensure the new standards are implemented in their schools.

As with anything new, Jay Jennings — an assistant principal at a Tipton county middle school and an instructor at Wednesday’s training — expects some pushback. But he’s optimistic that his district will have every teacher at benchmark by the end of the 2018–2019 school year.

“We talked before about teachers knowing content, and that’s important,” he said. “But what we want to see is kids knowing content and questioning content. We want to see them involved.”

He reminded other school leaders about last year’s changes to English and math standards, a transition that he said was challenging but smoother than expected.  

“Teachers are going to go out of their comfort zone,” he explained. “But it’s not changing what a lot of them are already doing.”