The popular Harshman Middle -- a school with a waitlist of more than 500 students -- would be replicated if the IPS Board approves the plan
A plan by Indianapolis Public Schools administration to separate middle school grades from high schools could lead to the creation of two new schools and convert the long-struggling John Marshall High School into a stand-alone middle school.
The proposal sets a fall 2017 deadline to decide which district high schools to close because of dwindling enrollment. As recently as last week, IPS officials suggested some schools could be shuttered at end of the current school year.
Instead Superintendent Lewis Ferebee envisions quickly expanding four current K-6 elementary schools up to eighth grade, creating one new 7-8 school and one new K-8 school, in addition to converting John Marshall into a 7-8 school.
Students headed to grades 9-12 at John Marshall for the 2017-18 school year would be relocated to Arlington Community High School. Arlington middle school students would attend the new John Marshall Middle School.
John Marshall High School has been rated a D on the state's A-F accountability scale for the past three years. Before that, it was rated F for two consecutive years.
The proposal was discussed for the first time publicly Tuesday during a work session of the IPS Board of Commissioners at Arlington. The proposal will be discussed again at the board review session Aug. 23 and could be voted on at the regular board meeting Aug. 25.
Adding additional grades at current schools or creating new schools is part of a wide-reaching, multi-year plan to improve academics and safety for students in middle grades and better prepare high school students for college or a career, said IPS Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand.
Board President Mary Ann Sullivan said the time had come for middle school students to be separated from high school buildings.
"If you look at the line of Fs for the middle schools it's clear we have a problem there," Sullivan said, referring to junior high programs within Northwest, John Marshall and other high schools that are rated as failing by the state. "Those are problems other communities have but they are really, really strong at IPS."
Sullivan said shifting the 7-8 grade students to elementary schools will allow them to be school leaders and have a more focused academic program without the distractions of a high school.
While all commissioners agree with plans to shift the middle grades, Kelley Bentley pushed back on details of the plan.
She called the timeline to close high schools “negligent,” arguing it should happen sooner. Other commissioners said community and business groups need to be part of the decision making. The eight district high schools would be "reduced" in 2019, according to the proposal.
Bentley also argued that replacing the community high school model with a skill or career-track focus would prevent students from exploring different interests and being best prepared for a four-year college.
The propposal calls for turning all district high schools into so-called "career academies" where particular programs would be offered such as teaching, military, law enforcement or business. Already established programs, like Broad Ripple's performing arts focus, would remain.
“I am concerned we are turning our high schools into job training programs,” Bentley said. “And I am not comfortable with it.”
The grade configuration proposal includes:
- New medical/STEM-focused 7-8 school -- a replication of the popular Harshman STEM program which currently has a waitlist of 560 students. Crispus Attucks Middle School would be relocated to this new school. The location is unknown.
- New “Reggio” 7-8 school -- a replication of Butler University's William Bell School 60 Reggio program. The location is unknown.
- Convert James Whitcomb Riley School 43 to K-8 school and replicate the kinesthetic learning program from Frederick Douglas “SUPER School” 19 at the building. Frederick Douglas has a waitlist of 160 students.
- Convert John Marshall High School into a 7-8 school for students at John Marshall and Arlington middle grades.
- Convert three current K-6 elementary schools to K-8 programs: Stephen Foster School 367, Washington Irving School 14 and Wendell Phillips School 63
- Phase-out the community high school model by 2018 and all district high school become so-called career academies where particular academic or career programs for grades 9-12.
The public can weigh in on the proposal at the IPS Board's agenda review session, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23 at the central office.