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Key Learning Community School will close next spring

Key Learning Community School will close next spring

Scott Elliott

Key Learning Community parents say they were left out of decision

The Indianapolis Public School Board of Education already voted to close Key Learning Community School, but the parents are not ready to move on.

More than 50 parents, students, teachers and others who came to a meeting at the school were met tonight with a presentation about how to choose a new school.

But they wanted answers first.

“It’s a self fulfilling prophecy,” said Alan Schoff, parent of a Key seventh-grader. “The district did the school wrong, not the other way around.”

He was one of several parents with complaints about the process, saying they weren’t told ahead of time that the school would close, given reasons for the closure or allowed a chance to have their say before the board voted Thursday to shut down the magnet program at the school.

“This isn’t participation from the parents,” Schoff said. “This is an edict from the district.”

Key has been world-famous as the first to use curriculum inspired by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking theory of “multiple intelligences.” The school aimed to help kids discover what interested them and explore those ideas through projects. Gardner’s theory argues that humans have different kinds of capabilities, rather than one general intelligence. Key students were encouraged to study academic subjects while also developing their visual, musical and interpersonal skills.

Kiara Cunningham, a 2007 Key graduate who now works as a family services caseworker, said the school taught her to think differently.

“It gave an opportunity to nontraditional kids to learn the way they learn,” she said. “That is what makes Key school special.”

Chalkbeat chronicled an effort to save the school in an award-winning story last year.

(Read: In the age of accountability, a school famous for its creativity struggles to get results.)

The school district’s plan is to move an arts magnet program to the Key building from School 70 and expand it to grades K-8. The plan phases out middle school grades at Broad Ripple High School, also an arts magnet program. The board votes Nov. 9 on the changes to School 70 and Broad Ripple.

But at Key, the main concerns were about the upheaval for kids and their families.

“This is all they know,” said Tonya Cowherd, whose son is now a high school junior and has attended Key since seventh grade. Cowherd’s son has special needs, and she does not want to send him to their local high school.  “If he can’t stay here, I’m going to have to pay out of pocket for him to go to private school.”

Greg Newlin of IPS tried to lead a discussion about how to choose other IPS schools and apply for other magnet programs. Several other schools were at Key to show off their programs. Instead he was interrupted by a series of questions about why Superintendent Lewis Ferebee was absent and why the school board voted without hearing from Key parents.

“We are in a situation where we’ve got to move forward,” Newlin said.

Rhonda Kaley, a Broad Ripple parent with three children at Key, said she preferred a K-12 school, but Key was the only one in IPS.

“We picked the school because it was a K-12 school,” she said. “I don’t get why you’re saying it’s not working. It does work.”

Rebecca Emery, who has children in third and eighth grade, said she wanted all of her kids to attend the same school. The changes at Key will make that impossible, she said.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t have the gas to go from one school to a high school maybe across the city,” she said.

Administrators said low enrollment at Key — 445 this year — was a factor in their decision to close the school. It has also struggled with mostly low test scores for several years.

Board member Mary Ann Sullivan, who fought tears as she cast her vote to close the school last week, attended the meeting and encouraged teachers who believed in the Key program to consider applying to operate a different IPS school under the district’s new “innovation” network to revive its core ideas. Sullivan’s own children attended the school, and she was a longtime volunteer.

But she also said she recognized that wouldn’t help today’s Key students or their families.

“I am so deeply sorry any family has to be displaced,” she said. “There are forces outside of the school board’s control that are real.”

Meetings will be held Tuesday at School 70 and Wednesday at Broad Ripple. Both meetings are at 6 p.m.