October 27, 2015

Parents 'Heartbroken' By IPS Plan To Shutter Key Learning Community, Relocate School 70's Magnet Program

Mary E. Nicholson School 70, 510 E. 46th St. on the Northside of Indianapolis. - Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media

Mary E. Nicholson School 70, 510 E. 46th St. on the Northside of Indianapolis.

Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media

INDIANAPOLIS -- Some parents are opposing a fast-tracked proposal by the Indianapolis Public Schools administration to relocate a magnet program of majority minority students from the city’s Northside to a Downtown building where a long-running school would be shuttered.

The IPS board is expected to discuss the plan Tuesday and hold a final vote Thursday -- a week before parents can attend meetings at the three impacted schools to learn more about the changes.

During Tuesday’s meeting an IPS Board commissioner will attempt to seek a 30-day waiting period before the board can vote on this and any future school alteration -- a move to allow parents and stakeholders more time to provide feedback.

Read More: IPS Board To Consider Closing World-Famous Key Learning Community

The proposal, announced last Monday at an IPS Board work session, would reshape four magnet programs:

  • Key Learning Community, 777 S. White River Parkway Drive, would be closed and Mary E. Nicholson School 70’s performing arts magnet, 510 E. 46th St., would be relocated to Key’s current location.
  • The middle school at Broad Ripple’s performing arts magnet high school would also be relocated to the Key building to create the Nicholson K-8 arts academy -- a feeder school for Broad Ripple High.
  • This would then leave School 70 vacant for a fourth Center For Inquiry magnet program. Currently there is a wait list of more than 300 students for the three other CFI programs. 

It’s a dramatic shift of staff and students that is leaving some parents with many emotions.

'Mixed emotions'

Laura Powell, parent of a School 70 kindergartner, said she cried last week after reading media reports about the proposal and again when the school sent out a letter confirming it.

“I was devastated. This is a school we chose to send our daughter to,” said Powell, who lives a few blocks from the school in Meridian-Kessler. “There are so many mixed emotions. (IPS said) they are going to add and expand the program but I just don’t understand why they are moving to Key to do that. It is so far away.”

Powell credits principal Nathan Tuttle and his staff with turning the school around. School 70 was rated a “B” last year on the state accountability scorecard after earning a “D” in the two previous years.

"I just feel like they need to give the school another couple years to see how the neighborhood reacts to it," said Powell, adding that neighbors are now considering enrolling their children at the school because of increased academics and Tuttle’s reputation.

Last year School 70 had 347 students in grades K-5. Of those students, 75 percent were black and 15 percent were Hispanic.

Powell and other parents WFYI spoke with said they’d stick with the performing arts program if that means trekking to the new location.

Jenna Mac Killop lives Downtown and has two young children at School 70. Her family was considering possibly relocating closer to the school but now are happy they’d be closer to it. The relocation works for them.

"I've been telling people how wonderful the school is" she said. "I see this move as an opportunity for the school to grow and more opportunities for the students."

Last week IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told Amos Brown, during an interview on AM 1310's "Afternoons with Amos," that a reason to change School 70 was because students were having a difficult transition from fifth grade at School 70 to sixth grade at Broad Ripple. 

Creating a K-8 school at the Key building would ease that transition into the high school performing arts program, he said.

In addition, Ferebee continued, the relocation would allow students to interact more with Downtown arts groups and better use grant funding from the recently awarded Kennedy Center's Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program.

'Hope They Reconsider'

While the plan for School 70 caught many off guard, changes to Key Learning Community have been discussed before. Last year Ferebee proposed closing the K-12 school -- the world’s first using curriculum inspired by the Multiple Intelligences theory. 

But the community pushed back even while some within the district admitted that the program’s focus on its unique curriculum had waned in past years.

Yet Rebecca Emery said Key supported and helped her eighth grader, a boy with special needs, grow emotionally and academically. She had hoped her son and younger daugher would graduate from Key.

“It is heartbreaking. We have all of these families who have trust in Key and that trust is now shaken up,” she said. “I am hoping that they are able to resolve it so he can stay at the school. I know my little voice is just a little voice on the totem pole, but, I hope they reconsider.”

For now, Emery is dreading having to look for another school.

Questioning transparency

IPS Board Commissioner Gayle Cosby wants parents like Emery to have more of a say in the fate of Key and changes at School 70. Cosby plans to propose a policy change for the IPS Board: a 30-day waiting period between announcing a change to a school and when the final vote is held.

“I am disappointed in the way that this proposal was brought about. Not only should the board have been involved at an early stage but also the parents too,” Cosby said Monday. “I am not proud to be a board member at this point. I feel like the community is right: they are not included in the decision. I feel like if this board wants to pride itself on transparency and autonomy but autonomy should be extended to school communities and families as well.”

Cosby also wants the board to consider why there is, as what she calls, a disproportionate enrollment of white students in two of the three CFI schools. She said policies are needed to increase diversity in high performing magnet programs, like CFI.

Cosby is worried that that the proposed fourth CFI program, at School 70, will have a majority white enrollment based on its Northside location.

According to 2014-15 state data: Center For Inquiry I, 725 N New Jersey St, is 67 percent white; CFI II, at 440 E. 57th St., is 82 percent white; and CFI III, at 545 E. 19th St., is 35 percent white.

“There is another community, another side of town that can benefit from having a CFI,” Cosby said.

Ferebee, on "Afternoons with Amos," said district research shows demand for an additional Northside CFI school -- even if it is just a mile away from another CFI.

"This is not a strategy around neighborhood schools or a goal to disrupt neighborhood schools," he said, meaning the changes will not force children to go to a school outside of their boundry zone.

If the fourth Center For Inquiry program is opened at School 70, the students on the waitlist for the other three schools will be able to enroll. According to IPS, the waitlist of 310 students includes, 48 percent white students and 42 percent black and Hispanic students.

School 70 is expected to hold around 500 students as a CFI program.

'We are giving students of color the oportunity to attend there," Ferebee said about the proposed fourth CFI school. "This is not about creating a racial imbalance."

The IPS Board will meet 6 p.m. Tuesday to further discuss these proposals and is expected to hold a final vote 6 p.m. Thursday at the Morton-Finney Center, 120 E. Walnut St.

IPS has already scheduled 6 p.m. meetings for parents to hear about the proposed changes at the three schools: Key Learning Community, Nov. 2; School 70, Nov. 3; and Broad Ripple Middle School, Nov. 4.

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

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