IPS plan would close Key, and shift programs at four schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Key Learning Community, a K-12 school famous for its unique curriculum, will close at the end of the school year.

One of Indianapolis Public School’s most famous schools would shut down and four others would see dramatic changes to their offerings under a plan presented to the school board tonight.

The plan is to close Key Learning Community, a K-12 magnet school that opened in 1987 as the world’s first with curriculum inspired by the Multiple Intelligences theory, in 2016.

It also would shift the International Baccalaureate program from Gambold Preparatory High School on the Northwest side to Shortridge High School on the North side. That program would replace Shortridge’s signature law and public policy program, which would move to Arsenal Tech High School to make room.

Arsenal would also absorb the media and mass communications program from Broad Ripple High School under the plan.

Besides Key, all the other changes would occur before the next school year begins.

More than two dozen parents, mostly from Shortridge and Broad Ripple, said after the meeting that they were concerned about the moves and angry that they were not given an opportunity to speak. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said they would still get that opportunity next week.

“We will have opportunities for our citizens to weigh in,” he said.

Changes at five schools

Gambold and Shortridge were among several schools that former superintendent Eugene White reopened or reorganized by placing a specialty magnet program on those campuses. Gambold reopened in 2012 and has 164 students in grades 9 to 11. Shortridge was converted to a magnet high school in 2009 and has about 700 students in grades 6 to 12.

The possibility of moving the IB program to Shortridge was first raised last year, with idea of having the school located closer to magnet elementary schools on the city’s North side, like the Centers for Inquiry and Sidener Gifted Academy, as part of the thinking in hopes those families would stay in IPS by choosing the IB program rather than opting for private and charter high schools.

Gambold earned an A grade from the state. Shortridge’s high school was rated a C and middle school was rated a D by the state for low test scores last year.

Broad Ripple is an arts and humanities magnet high school with about 915 students in grades 6 to 12. The school earned a B for its high school and an F for its middle school from the state last year based on test scores and other factors. The school would continue to offer performing and visual arts and humanities magnet programs under the proposal.

Arsenal Tech, the district’s largest high school with more than 1,800 students in grades 9 to 12, already has 22 magnet programs in specialties as diverse as culinary arts, fire rescue and welding. It has been rated a D for three straight years.

Parent concerns

Parents who came to the meeting said they receive an automated phone call late Monday, after the deadline to sign up 24 hours in advance to speak to the board. They said they would be back on Tuesday to speak against the proposal before the board votes.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it and that’s why I’m down here,” said Theresa Harris, a Broad Ripple graduate with a son who attends the school now.

Mary Juerling, a member of the group Parent Power and mother of a recent transfer student to Shortridge, said the plan was unfair. For example, she said, it would require perhaps more than 700 students to move from the school to stay with their magnet programs, while little more than 100 would be moving in.

Several parents asked why the district didn’t just move the Gambold IB program to Arsenal Tech and leave Shortridge out of it.

“My choices are being taken away in my local community,” Juerling said.

Jeurling also said the move had racial implications, potentially moving a larger numbers of poor, black and Hispanic children to make way for programs that serve more white families and wealthy families.

Shortridge is 87 percent black, Hispanic or multiracial and 81 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. For a family of four, that means an annual income of $43,500 or less. Gambold is 65 percent black, Hispanic or multiracial with 70 percent who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“You see a disproportionate impact on certain racial groups,” Jeurling said.

Board members have questions

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the plan would make better use of school buildings, create more space in high demand programs and improve student achievement.

“We believe this is an opportunity for increased efficiency,” he said.

At least three board members — Michael Brown, Annie Roof and Gayle Cosby — appeared to have concerns about the plan or the process. Roof and Cosby asked about communication with the school about the proposal. Cosby said she was “dismayed” that parents and school staff weren’t involved in discussions about the future of the schools sooner.

“I have a concern about informing parents and families about something of this magnitude the night before,” she said.

Brown said the plan failed to take into account the historical reasons for why the programs were placed in the schools in the first place.

“I am not in favor of any of these moves,” Brown said.

The end of Key?

The closing of Key would bring an era of uniquely creative education to an end.

The Multiple Intelligences psychological theory was developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner in a groundbreaking book in 1983. A group of IPS teachers who read it made a pilgrimage to meet Gardner at a speaking engagement in 1984, proposing the idea of building a school around the intelligences. Gardner gave his blessing.

The Key school opened with 150 students in grades K to 6 in 1987 to national media attention as a worldwide first and has since been extensively studied for its applications of Gardner’s ideas.

Gardner’s research attempted categorize human behaviors that he felt qualified as “intelligence:” visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical. Every person, he theorized, possessed a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses in each category. Gardner also criticized standardized testing, arguing that it mostly measured just two types of intelligence.

The school embraced those ideas by attempting to create learning activities that allowed kids to play to their strengths, particularly through projects or by allowing unstructured time to explore their interests. Key enjoyed a run as one of the district’s most celebrated schools known for strong student performance and catering to some of the district’s wealthiest families. But by the early 2000s, student poverty had grown and test performance fell off dramatically.

Today, Key is a K-12 school on White River Parkway Drive near downtown Indianapolis, a site the district has identified as potentially valuable.

Principal Sheila Dollaske came on board in 2012 with the goal of invigorating the school. Key made dramatic test score gains at elementary grades soon after, but overall performance has been mixed. The school last year earned a C for middle and high school but an F for elementary school.

NOTE: This story was updated to correct the high school grade Shortridge received this year (C) and the grade for Gambold (A).

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.