School Closings

Four things you should know before Monday’s Indianapolis Public Schools Board votes on closing high schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Students and staff at four Indianapolis Public Schools will know their fate by Monday’s end — when the board votes on a plan to close and reconfigure high schools.

The proposal from the administration calls for closing Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School as well as converting Northwest and Arlington High School campuses to middle schools.

If the plan is approved, the district will keep open four high school campuses near the center of the district — Shortridge, Crispus Attucks, George Washington and Arsenal Technical high schools. They will all offer magnet programs in fields such as health sciences, the arts and the military. Students will be expected to choose a high school based on the focus area, rather than the location.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Monday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St.

Here are some of the essential facts ahead of the vote:

1. It’s not over until the school board votes.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration produced the high school closing plan at the urging of the board. But while several board members have been clear that high schools must close, there have been some murmurs of discontent with the proposal’s details.

Board member Venita Moore, for example, wrote in the Indianapolis Recorder that she is concerned that the plan only keeps campuses near the core of the district, taking resources from the communities on its periphery.

Ultimately, it’s the school board that will make the final decision and board members could approve pieces of the plan or reject it altogether.

2. The district has about a quarter of the high schoolers it once educated.

At its peak in the late 1960s, IPS educated about 26,000 high school students. In the decades since, the district has lost students as families left for the suburbs or opted to send their children to private or charter schools. Now, high schools enroll a total of about 5,000 students, according to district data. For comparison, Carmel High School has nearly as many students in a single building.

Despite decades of shrinking enrollment, the district has kept most of its high schools open. As a result, they are vastly underutilized with more than twice as many seats as students, according to a district report.

All those empty seats can drive up costs in schools, as the district pays for services such as air conditioning and maintenance.

3. The research on whether closing schools helps or hurts students is mixed.

Parents and community members have raised many concerns over the high school closing plan, including fears that combining schools will push students to drop out, trigger violence among students and lead to long bus rides.

But when Chalkbeat looked at the research on school closings earlier this year, we found mixed results. In some communities, closing schools has had negative impacts. In Milwaukee and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, students were less likely to graduate when their high schools closed. But in other places, it has been positive for students. In New Orleans, for example, students had higher graduation rates after they moved to new high schools. And in New York, researchers found that when several high schools closed, graduation rates stayed stable for current students and future students had higher attendance and graduation rates.

“In short, the key to making closures and takeovers work is to ensure that directly affected students end up in better schools after the intervention,” wrote the authors of a paper on New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

4. There were other options.

The district is faced with two serious problems: They have far more high school seats than students to fill them and many of their schools are chronically underperforming. Ferebee’s administration is betting that they can tackle both problems by consolidating high schools so campuses can offer students more specialized options. Because the administration chose an all magnet system, they also chose to keep schools in the center of the city, where it will be easier to bus students from across the district.

But it’s not the only vision they could’ve pursued. The plan calls for keeping the Arlington and Northwest campuses open as middle schools and filling extra space with district administrators and special programs. Those same steps could’ve helped keep the buildings open as high schools. The district could’ve chosen to embrace its small high schools, refashioning campuses with that in mind and sharing buildings with other organizations.

Now, the question is whether the IPS Board likes the vision for high schools proposed by the administration.

while you were sleeping

Bronx transfer school is shuttered after late-night vote, a first for Chancellor Carranza

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Supporters of Crotona Academy protested against the city's plans to close it at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

Chancellor Richard Carranza’s introduction to New York City continued Wednesday with an eight hour meeting in which teachers and students desperately pled for their school not to be closed, only to have the city school board vote to shutter it.

Even after hearing a musical performance from students hoping to keep Crotona Academy open, the Panel for Educational Policy voted around 1 a.m. Thursday to shutter the Bronx high school that serves students who have struggled at traditional high schools.


Some of the school’s supporters appealed directly to Carranza, arguing that he should reconsider proposals created under his predecessor, Carmen Fariña.

“You see how many people are here right now — people want this school open,” said Dallas Joseph, a 17-year-old student at the school. He noted that the school offers lots of individualized attention and set him up with a job at an after-school program. “They gave us a different type of opportunity.”

It’s an argument that supporters of the city’s “transfer” high schools, which serve students who have fallen behind in credits at traditional schools and are likely to be at risk of dropping out, have long made when the city has called attention to their low performance. Advocates for the schools have long pointed out that looking at graduation rates and test scores is not the best way to assess their value, and in the past, city officials have withdrawn closure proposals for transfer schools that they said were doing better than performance data suggested.

Indeed, Crotona’s supporters said traditional statistics mask the school’s successes. Former students said the school helped them get to graduation despite falling behind at other high schools. And staffers pointed out the school serves an unusually vulnerable population.

“Our population is among the most at-risk in the city,” said Nicholas Rivera, a staff member at the school.

Their argument did not fly overnight. City officials said Crotona is too low-performing to stay open and that other transfer schools in the Bronx have enough space to absorb its students. The school’s 45 percent graduation rate puts it among the bottom third of all transfer schools, according to education department documents, and just 1 percent of the students who graduated last school year were considered “college-ready.”

“We take the decision to close a school extremely seriously, and we only propose closure when it’s in the best interest of students and families,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman wrote in an email. “The students at Crotona Academy can be better served by one of the stronger transfer schools in the Bronx.”

Carranza did not comment as the panel debated the proposal or another contentious one to merge two other Bronx transfer schools: Bedford Stuyvesant Preparatory High School and Brooklyn Academy High School. Nor did he comment on the decisions after they were made around 1 a.m.

The final vote on both proposals was 7-5, with mayoral appointees voting in favor, and all five borough representatives voting no. (While Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would let his appointees vote as they wished, he recently replaced a mayoral appointee who voted against a city proposal.)

The panel also voted to merge six other schools — a process that some school communities often experience as de facto closures.

  • Holcombe L. Rucker and Longwood Preparatory Academy, both part of the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program for low-performing schools.
  • Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies and East Flatbush Community Research School, in Brooklyn
  • Aspirations Diploma Plus High School and W.E.B. Dubois Academic High School, also transfer schools, in Brooklyn

sorting the students

Facing closure, some Memphis parents hope to form K-8 school, but others aren’t sold

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A community group proposed combining Manor Lake Elementary and Geeter Middle School, but elementary parents aren't convinced.

About 35 frustrated parents and teachers from Manor Lake Elementary School made it clear to district officials in a recent meeting that they don’t want their school merged with a nearby middle school.

The reaction from Manor Lake parents dashed hopes that a proposal from other parents to combine the school with Geeter Middle School would gain support.

The parents who made the proposal are part of a larger leadership group representing the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, which both schools will enter next year. Also in that group are students, teachers, and community leaders who represent a cluster of low-performing neighborhood schools.

Shelby County Schools officials had hoped that a proposal generated by parents would help win support from other parents in the neighborhood because parents rarely support closing a school.

Some of the parents at Manor Lake told district officials they fear the influence of older students if their school is combined with Geeter.

The district hopes that if the schools in that zone work together, test scores will improve. Parent and community leaders said the consolidation would stave off closure by the district, which would scatter students to other elementary schools outside the neighborhood.

District leaders saw the move as a way to avoid state takeover by combining resources into one building, allowing them to direct more money to improving academic performance. Both Manor Lake Elementary and Geeter Middle feed into Fairley High School, a charter school under the state-run Achievement School District.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Vincent Hunter, principal of Whitehaven High School and leader of the Empowerment Zone, addresses Manor Lake Elementary parents.

“If we sit back and do nothing and are not aggressive in our treatment, then now we become victims or potential victims of the ASD,” said Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School and leader of the Empowerment Zone.

Manor Lake teacher Lisa Chalmers said even though the proposal would allow students to stick together, she was worried about the blight of another empty building in an area that has experienced many school closures in recent years.

“I know they [the state] want our schools. But we want our schools too,” she said.

District leaders described the school’s declining test scores, poor building condition, and low enrollment as other reasons for combining the schools, which are both at risk of closure. Teachers in the audience attributed the lack of academic growth to adding students from at least two schools that had been closed in recent years.

Either way, the schools will face disruption going into next school year. As part of entering the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone next year, all teachers at both schools will have to re-apply to their positions — a common practice among turnaround programs.

The meeting last week was the second convened by district leaders after Superintendent Dorsey Hopson presented the proposal to the school board last month. Parents said the proposal came as a surprise and that they didn’t know about the first meeting held soon after Hopson’s announcement.

Proponents of combining elementary and middle grades say if students change schools fewer times between kindergarten and 12th grade, they perform better on tests. But studies on the topic are mixed. A 2011 University of Minnesota review of relevant studies said more research is needed to be definitive.

Sherrie Jackson, who despite not living in Manor Lake’s boundary chose the school for her two children, called the idea “ludicrous” because she didn’t want her rising kindergartner to be in the same building as eighth graders.

“What if one of these small children get hurt with those big kids over there?” she asked. “The more kids you have in the school, the less one-on-one time they get.”

Hunter said elementary and middle school students would be on separate floors of the building, a similar set up to the district’s 13 other K-8 schools.

“The only thing that’s going to make you feel totally better is when you see it and live it,” he told Jackson during the meeting. Still, Jackson and others said they would take their students elsewhere if the district goes through with the proposal.

“I’m just going to have to look around, probably transfer her, see where I can find a school for her to go to that’s K through fifth grade,” said Kimeri Golden, whose daughter is a third-grader at Manor Lake, after the meeting.

The school board is scheduled to give its final vote on the proposal at its regular meeting in April.