July 26, 2016

Closing Underused IPS High Schools Likely, Ferebee Says

John Marshall Community High School on the Far Eastside is at 42 percent capacity for the 2015-16 school year - Indianapolis Public Schools

John Marshall Community High School on the Far Eastside is at 42 percent capacity for the 2015-16 school year

Indianapolis Public Schools

Plan would end community high school model and shift to 'career academies'


At least one Indianapolis high school will likely be shuttered next year.

That’s the likely result of a yet-to-be released plan by Indianapolis Public Schools leaders to remove middle school grades from six of eight high schools and create new schools specifically for grades 6th, 7th and 8th.

Also possible is the expansion of some elementary schools to a K-8 model.

For the past two years, IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has hinted at an upheaval of district high schools as a way to emphasize academics during the middle school years and reduce costs linked to maintaining massive, half-empty buildings.

The IPS Board could vote on a yet-to-be released school configuration by end of August. The changes would go into effect for 2017-8 school year. The issue is expected to be discussed 6 p.m. Thursday at the regular IPS Board meeting. 

View IPS High Schools, By Enrollment Capacity in a full screen map


“We have so many high schools. The enrollment at the high school level doe not call for the number of high schools we have now, especially when we have high schools that serve grades 9-12,” Ferebee said Tuesday in an interview. “Some schools may have to be repurposed -- that is not off the table. There will be difficult decisions to make but from an operational standpoint and also from an academic standpoint as well, we just know we can’t continue to operate the way we have been operating.”

Six of eight IPS high schools are at 50 percent or less capacity, according to district data of the past school year. Shortridge International Baccalaureate is at 24.4 percent capacity and Arlington Community -- a 380,000 square-foot building -- is at 25.6 percent capacity.

Removing middle school grades from some high schools would leave those buildings, like Arlington, below 20 percent capacity based on its size and remaining student enrollment in grades 9-12.

High schools that remain open, Ferebee said, would also no longer be bound by neighborhoods and other geographic lines. Instead, each would have one or multiple instructional or career focuses for students across the city to chose to enroll in.

That means Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet School could expanded to include another focus, like a teacher candidate program, Ferebee said.

Or the district could partner with a financial institution to offer a business focus at another school.

The plan, Ferebee said, will result in more schools only for middle school-age students. Only one such school exists now, Harshman Middle School.

The chage would also go after an academic slide that some high school students face Middle school students who have yet to master skills quickly fall behind in the upper grades, Ferebee said. 

Shortly after Arlington opened last fall, testing found that 42 percent of seventh graders were reading at a third grade level or below. Another 36 percent were up to two years behind in reading skills.

Some concerned groups and parents are already rallying support for their school, such at John Marshall High School. Education reform group Stand For Children has gathered hundreds of signatures urging the district to remake the long-struggling Far Eastside school. The group is expected to speak at Thursday's board meeting.

This story will be updated.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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