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.

Transition plan

Students at one Memphis elementary school may relocate during construction

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Students demonstrate ancient Chinese martial arts during a showcase for parents at the end of Shelby County Schools' 2017 summer learning academy at Alcy Elementary School.

Students at Alcy Elementary School in South Memphis likely won’t be staying put during construction of their new school.

It’s also possible that the new building won’t be ready until January of 2020 instead of the fall of 2019 as originally planned.

School board members will vote in the coming months on whether to temporarily relocate Alcy students to Magnolia Elementary. The original plan was to stay in the current building until a replacement is built on another part of Alcy’s campus.

“Our construction staff said there wasn’t enough land to build the new school and operate the old school with parking lot and dropoffs and do it all safely,” explained Billy Orgel, who chairs the board’s facilities committee for Shelby County Schools.

Orgel’s panel reviewed the construction schedule on Monday with facility staff members for the district.

The new $19 million building will merge students from Alcy, Magnolia, and Charjean elementary schools. Eventually, the old Alcy building will be demolished, while the other two school buildings will be leveled or sold. It’s all part of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to close, build, and consolidate seven schools into three new ones, similar to an earlier project at Westhaven Elementary.

Board members mulled the possibility of relocating Alcy students in January to stay on construction schedule but opted to recommend a move at the end of the school year — a decision that would push construction back by about six months.

“It’s more orderly for everyone to have the summer to prepare rather than the holidays,” Orgel said.

Students at Goodlett Elementary, another school in Hopson’s consolidation plan, will stay in their current building while a new one is built nearby. The new school will bring in students from Knight Road Elementary, along with some from Sheffield and Getwell elementary schools. Knight Road is be demolished later.

After the Alcy and Goodlett projects, the next construction phase calls for a new K-12 Woodstock school that would merge with Lucy and Northaven elementary schools.

School Closings

Hired: Indianapolis Public Schools chooses principals to help ‘reinvent’ high schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indianapolis Public Schools went on a hiring spree Thursday, selecting principals for the four high schools that will remain open next fall and a new chief of staff.

Four current IPS leaders will take the helm at its high schools next year — three of whom will remain at schools they now lead. The district interviewed several external candidates and increased the salary cap for principals to $150,000 per year as part of a school reconfiguration that included closing three high schools. The principals chosen are:

  • Shane O’Day will remain as principal of Shortridge High School,
  • Lauren Franklin will remain as principal of Crispus Attucks High School,
  • Stan Law, who is currently principal at Arlington High School, will take over at George Washington High School, and
  • Lloyd Bryant, who took over as interim principal at Arsenal Technical High School when Julie Bakehorn was abruptly removed, will become the permanent principal at the school.

“They have the ability to lead the academy model and do it really well,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “I’m excited about their leadership, and I look forward to them sharing their vision with students and families.”

The board also approved hiring Ahmed Young as chief of staff. A former teacher and lawyer by training, Young previously oversaw charter schools for Mayor Joe Hogsett.

As IPS chief of staff, Young will work on both academic and operational oversight. Ferebee said that Young will take on some of the responsibilities of Wanda Legrand and David Rosenberg, two top administrators who recently left the district. But the district may hire an additional staffer as well.

“He’s a very talented guy, and he’s shown that in his work in the mayor’s office,” Ferebee said. “We are really fortunate to have him on the team.”

Young will be paid $150,000 per year. Three of the principals — Law, O’Day and Franklin — will be paid $125,000 per year, at least $20,000 more than each currently makes. Principal Bryant, who will lead the largest school, will be paid $140,000 per year, up from his current salary of $110,000 per year.

The four principals will also be paid additional stipends this year to plan for the academies and hire teachers in the coming months.

The principals will lead their schools through a significant transition as the district switches to an all magnet high school model in 2018-2019, branded as “reinventing” high schools. Each school will have academies with focus areas such as the performing arts, health sciences and information technology. Instead of choosing a high school by location, students will be expected to select an academy based on their interests.

Last week, the board voted to close three high schools after months of contentious meetings over the proposal. Arlington, Northwest and Broad Ripple high schools will close at the end of this year. The move follows decades of shrinking enrollment as the district loses students to suburban, charter and private schools.