School Closings

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

PHOTO: Shelby Mullis

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.

Future of Schools

Ogden school staffer arrested after 12-year-old student is hurt

PHOTO: Chicago Public Building Commission

A 12-year-old student at William B. Ogden Elementary School on the Near North Side suffered a sprained wrist this week in a physical altercation with a school employee, according to the Chicago Police Department.

The employee, Marvin Allen, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery of a child. He has been removed from the school pending an investigation, according to an email to parents from Acting Principal Rebecca Bancroft and two other administrators.

Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records list Allen as a student special services advocate and full-time employee at the school. Student special services advocates are responsible for working with at-risk children and connecting them and their families with social services, according to district job descriptions.

An email to parents Thursday night from school leaders said an incident had occurred earlier this week “that resulted in a “physical student injury.”

“While limited in what I can share, the incident took place earlier this week between a student and staff member off school grounds after dismissal,” read the message. “The employee involved has been removed from school while a CPS investigation by the Law Department takes place.”

District spokeswoman Emily Bolton confirmed that the employee had been removed pending a district investigation.

“Student safety is the district’s top priority and we immediately removed the employee from his position upon learning of a deeply concerning altercation that took place off of school grounds,” Bolton said.

The exact circumstances behind the incident are still unclear.

The altercation happened Monday morning outside the school’s Jenner Campus, which used to be Jenner Elementary School before Ogden and Jenner merged last year. The Jenner campus serves grades 5-8.

At recent Local School Council meetings, Bancroft, the acting principal, acknowledged a “fractured community” at the school in the aftermath of the merger, which joined two different schools — Ogden, a diverse school with a large white population and many middle-class families, and Jenner, a predominately black school where most students come from low-income households. At the January meeting, parents complained of student disciplinary problems at the Jenner campus. Jenner parents have also expressed concerns about inclusiveness at the school.

The school has also experienced leadership turnover. One of the principals who helped engineer the merger died last March after an illness. And in November, the district placed Ogden Principal Michael Beyer on leave after he was accused of falsifying attendance records.

The incident also comes on the heels of a video released in early February that shows a school police officer using a taser on a female Marshall High School student.

On the hunt

Want a say in the next IPS superintendent? Here’s your chance.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat

Parents, teachers, and neighbors will have a chance to weigh in on what they hope to see in the next Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent and the future of the district at three community meetings in the coming weeks.

The meetings, which will be facilitated by Herd Strategies at three sites across the city, will gather feedback before the school board begins the search for a new superintendent. The school board is expected to select the next superintendent in May.

Board President Michael O’Connor said the meetings are designed to get input on what the public values in the next superintendent. But they will also play another role, allowing community members to reflect and give feedback on the district’s embrace of innovation schools, one of the most controversial strategies rolled out during former Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration.

“As we look for the next superintendent, it’s perfect for us to take input on that path that we’ve taken and then hear what [community members] think is working well and maybe what they think we could do better,” O’Connor said, noting that the administration and board are often criticized for failing to engage the public.

Innovation schools are run by outside charter or nonprofit managers, but they are still considered part of the district. Indianapolis Public Schools gets credit from the state for their test scores, enrollment, and other data. The model is lauded by charter school advocates across the country, and it helped Ferebee gain national prominence.

Ferebee left Indianapolis in January after he was tapped to lead the Washington, D.C., school system. Indianapolis Public Schools is being led by interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, who was formerly the deputy superintendent and is seen as a leading candidate to fill the position permanently.

Here is information about the three scheduled community input sessions:

Feb. 27, Hawthorne Community Center, 1-3 p.m.

March 7, Arsenal Technical High School in the Anderson Auditorium, 6-8 p.m.

March 13, George Washington Carver Montessori School 87 in the gymnasium, 6-8 p.m.