The last graduates at three Indianapolis high schools walked across stages Thursday night to receive their diplomas. The 2018 commencement marks the end of students’ high school careers and the schools they attended.
After this week, Broad Ripple High School will close and Arlington and Northwest high schools will transition into middle schools. Additionally, John Marshall Middle School will be shuttered this weekend due to shrinking enrollment and a plan to reshape the city’s secondary education options.
Indianapolis Public Schools will operate four academic and career-themed high schools when the 2018-19 academic year begins in late July. It's part of an effort to redirect $7 million in annual operating costs to other schools and provide students with more career options.
Nostalgia ran high Thursday night as graduates, teachers, families, and alumni lamented the closure of the high schools through tears and smiles.
At Arlington, Principal Stan Law told students they must choose to be successful and face the pain of getting there. Law lamented about the struggles the class faced, from homelessness to the deaths of family and friends. But with the help of teachers, he said, they earned a diploma.
“Say it with me. No pain, no gain,” he said. “Sucess is your choice. Move on to big and better things. I love you class of 2018.”
A huge jump in graduation rates -- 32 perecent to nearly 83 percent -- coupled with periods of student discord and teacher turnover marked Arlington's past three years.
Yet in its final year, the school is expected to post the most graduates since 2011. That same year state officials hired a private company to turnaround the school after years of chronic failure. But in 2015 the company prematurely ended its contract with the state and school reopened under IPS management.
Arlington Alumni President Tim Bass said its difficult to see the school closed after just three years. Bass and other alumni spearheaded efforts to provide scholarships for students, sports gear or to be a friend.
"Many of the students I’ve known for three years, I’ve built relationships with. You know, this is really a bittersweet moment for me,” he told the class. “I’m really going to miss you guys and I want you guys to know -- I love you from the bottom of my heart.”
'We Can't Come Back'
At Broad Ripple High School, hundreds gathered to celebrate the graduates and bid farewell to the school.
Jennifer Argumedo, a first-generation graduate at Broad Ripple and valedictorian, choked back tears as she spoke to her class. During the speech she spoke to her parents in Spanish, thanking them for their support, and encouraged her classmates to fight ignorance.
Argumedo, a six-year student of the performing arts magnet, says students have been unable to escape the concerns about the school closing
“It’s not like we can come back and visit our favorite classes, or walk the halls while reminiscing on good memories," she said. "When we leave this building it is over. It is closing and we can’t come back.”
But local pastor and Broad Ripple alumna Kim Outlaw characterized the end of the school as students making history.
"You were the chosen ones that would close out this chapter because you are the ones strong enough to turn the page and begin another," she said.
'Northwest family is always here'
At Northwest Community High School, students were sad to see their school close but the event was still primarily celebratory.
Graduate Jasmine Robinson attended Northwest for six years.
"I mean it's happy I just feel sad because, you know, we can’t come back you know visit the teacher that helped us through everything we did but I’m happy that I got through it," she said.
Robinson plans to study nursing at Indiana State University in the fall.
Genevieve McLeish-Petty, a senior English teacher and drama director, has been Northwest for 17 years. She says the graduating class should understand that “we aren’t leaving them.”
"The Northwest family is always here we’ll just be a little trickier to find and that we’ve given them ways to do that via social media and for them to understand that Northwest closed but we didn’t die and that we can still bleed green forever," she said.
Michelle Brittain-Watt, Northwest principal, had similarly bittersweet feelings about the closing. She described it as the end of an era.
"As long as the friendships and relationships that were established were strong," she said, "I think the link that we all have will continue to carry on."
The performing arts program at Broad Ripple will move to Shortridge High School.
A few state officials and community members want the space to remain a school. Two charter school organizations -- Purdue Polytechnic and The HIM by HER Foundation -- are both interested in the building.
Developers are also interested in the property that sits in the heart of Broad Ripple.
IPS leaders want to sell it. They are asking state lawmakers to change a rule that blocks traditional public school corporations from selling empty buildings without first allowing charter schools the option to buy or lease them.
Arlington High School will be converted into a 7-to-8th-grade middle school with an evening high school program for students. Staff from Forest Manor will relocate to the building.
Northwest High School will close, but the 7-to-8th-grade middle school currently open in the building will remain. A program for new immigrants will be relocated to the building and the maintenance department will move to the facility.
In 1968, IPS operated 11 high schools with more than 26,000 students. Today, there are seven traditional high schools with around 5,000 students. District officials say the decline in enrollment is linked to population shift in Marion County since the 1950s.
-- Reported by Eric Weddle, Carter Barrett, Katie Simpson