August 16, 2016

IPS Board To Hear High School Reconfiguration Proposal Tonight

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

Indianapolis Public Schools

Tonight Indianapolis Public Schools officials will propose a plan to separate middle school grades from district high schools. The change is expected to cause the closure of at least one of eight high schools next year.

The plan would end the community high school model and shift the remaining high schools to so-called career academies where particular programs would be offered such as teaching, law enforcement, business or the already-established arts focus.

The IPS Board will meet at 6 p.m. tonight for a work session at Arlington Community High School, 4825 N Arlington Ave. The meeting is open to the public. No decisions will be made at this meeting.

More: Closing Underused IPS High Schools Likely, Ferebee Says

Yet tensions are high as students and school staff feel some decisions have already been made about which school will be closed. Many voiced that opinion last week during a series of public forums at Broad Ripple, John Marshall, George Washington and Northwest high schools.

Those are the schools expected to be considered for major changes or possible closure. 

During the four forums, one student seemed to capture the anxiety and fear of the process. Broad Ripple junior Jasmine Murphy said closing her school won’t just upend the lives of students but negatively impact teachers, staff and the surrounding community.

“I want to know what is going to happen to us. I don’t want you to be like, oh you are just another statistic, another number,” she said. “I am actually a person and I’d like to know what is going to happen.”

Last week IPS Commissioner Kelly Bentley wrote on Facebook: “Closing one high school is simply not enough.”

District officials say they know closing a school is a highly-charged issue, but they see no other options because of various factors:

  • Keeping middle schoolers, some as young as 11 years old, with high schoolers, who can be as old as 19 or 20, is not safe.
  • The basic operations cost of each building is more than a million dollars a year -- that’s too much for a district already facing a budget reduction from the state. At George Washington High School the cost for maintenance and electricity it $1.3 million.
  • And then there’s enrollment. Across the eight IPS high school buildings there are 15,000 available seats. But once the middle school school students are moved to stand-alone middle schools or K-to-8 schools, it will leave only around 5,300 students in grades 9-12. 

Keeping all those buildings open as high school just doesn’t make sense, IPS Deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand said.

Academics are also being reviewed.

Middle school students have struggled to excel academically in some of these schools where the focus is split among older students with different academic and behavior needs.

At Northwest and George Washington the middle school grades has been rated F for three consecutive years on the state's A-F scale.

Both high schools are rated D. The graduation rate is 62 percent at Northwest and 55 percent at George Washington

But Northwest football coach Abe Tawfeek, a 1999 graduate of the school, said change is underway thanks to a new principal. Last week students and the football team cheered the coach as he told district leaders just that.

“Two years when I first got here, kids were saying, “oh, I hate Northwest,  this is the worst school ever,” But now, we’ve got a lot of school spirit. So obviously we are doing something right.”

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

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