The final forum for the public to raise their voice about Indianapolis Public Schools’ plan to shutter three high schools and a middle school drew passionate pleas to spare Northwest High School.
Students, parents and neighbors Thursday evening offered personal stories of caring teachers, empowering coaches and feeling a sense of family as evidence to keep the Far Westside school open or delay the board from making a decision next month. About 150 people attended the forum.
Latashiana Garrett, a senior, said the closure of Northwest would shift students to other schools and break up strong connections with teachers and friends in the wake.
“To me, this is more than a school. This is memories. This is staying up late studying, group chats with friends. It’s sports," she says. "I just don’t think it is right. You are transferring hundreds of kids to a school downtown? What is the real reason, cause I just don’t get it?”
Others accused the school board of allowing disruption into the lives of families and students who live in the nearby Haughville, Stringtown and Mt. Jackson neighborhoods.
Richard Curry, minister of True Tried Missionary Baptist Church, says he understands sentimentality of keeping the school open, his children graduated there, but believes there are more important reasons.
“Not only that we are are stripping the Westside, the malls, the car lots and everything, and now you’re going to take the school?” he says. “What does that mean to a parent who lives across the street from the school?”
Mevlin Bryant, a parent of a Broad Ripple High School student, drew a roar of approval from the audience as he jabbed IPS board members and administrators for appearing bored as they listening to testimonies. He said their decision to close schools would damage this daughter's education.
"You give me three minutes, man," he said in reference to the time allotted per each speaker. "But my children need four years."
IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is proposing a remake of the district’s secondary academic program by creating more than two dozen specialty programs students can choose to attend. The plan includes operating four instead of seven high schools starting in 2018.
Declining enrollment is also causing the district to shrink its secondary schools. Since 2006 district enrollment dropped by nearly 10,000 students to around 29,000.
If approved by the IPS Board in September, Northwest would transition into a 600-seat middle school for 7th- and 8th- graders. A program for new immigrants students would be relocated to the Northwest from the nearby Gambold school
The administration says they also want to open an early learning center for the west side at Northwest.
After the forum, Ferebee said the reason behind the recommendation is to offer better academic options for students -- not to close schools to save money or make money by possible sales.
“This is an academic plan to better serve our high school students to better serve our students,” he said after the forum.
The IPS administration is proposing closing Northwest’s high school for a number of reasons.
Enrollment is far under the high school’s capacity. Last year 553 students attended -- just a 25 percent utilization rate.
Northwest’s operating cost is the third highest among district’s high schools.
The graduation rate increased from 62.1 percent in 2015 to 75.3 percent this past May. The school is rated a D on the state’s A-F accountability scale.
The board will vote on the school closure plan Sept. 18 at the John Morton Finney Center.