For more than two hours Wednesday night, parents, students, educators and alumni testified in support of three Indianapolis Public Schools in the midst of turnaround efforts.
They praised the principals, IPS and sometimes even the State Board of Education when voicing whether they want to see Arlington, Broad Ripple, and George Washington Community high schools remain under some form of state control or be returned fully to IPS.
Clinton Mize, a senior, compared Washington to a dysfunctional alternative school when he first enrolled in seventh grade. As he grew older there were few improvements, he said, until after principal Emily Butler took over in fall 2014.
"Everything is good,” he said about 2015-16 -- a school year that followed a tumultuous time for the Westside school. “Personally I am still surprised everything at Washington is moving in the right direction."
Mize wasn’t the only person to speak openly about academic failures, violence and other problems that have plagued these schools over the years. And like everyone else who stood up in Arsenal Tech auditorium, he asked Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and two other state board members to let IPS control most of the efforts to turn the schools around.
The state board will vote Friday on its decision.
That was the pitch from IPS: keep Arlington and Washington in their current state -- a hybrid of extra support and oversight from the state, IPS and the Massachusetts-based company Mass Insight -- and return Broad Ripple fully to the district. Broad Ripple has been rated a B each year since 2012 and will transform from a 7-12 school to a pure high school this fall.
It was the third and final public hearing by the State Board of Education to gather input on the future of seven schools under state oversight. The hearings are required by Indiana law when schools are in a fifth year of turnaround efforts by the board.
In 2011, the board voted to takeover Arlington and four other schools after being rated F for five consecutive years. Broad Ripple and Washington were ordered in to work with a “lead partner,” basically an outside company, to make improvements at the school.
Those relationships with educational consultants were rocky. In the past year IPS created networks of schools in the district that receive intensive check-ins from district improvement officers and help from Mass Insight.
Butler, the Washington principal, said those efforts are helping and she believes turnaround is possible if schools have consistency -- in staff, teachers and supports. She said no teachers have resigned this year.
Arlington drew the loudest support of the night, with speakers eventually being cut off because the three-hour meeting limit had passed.
At one point, a student who was in a coma for days after being hit by a city bus in December was asked to stand up and walk to the front of the theater as Arlington supporters hollered.
Parents and staff talked about the improvements at the Eastside school since it reopened in August under IPS management. The first months of were plagued by students roaming the halls and lack of academic focus in some classrooms.
Since then, there’s been significant teacher turnover and the additional hiring of staff to focus on students’ behavior and social needs. Some state board members have previously questioned principal Stan Law’s ability to get the school in order.
During Wednesday's hearing Law said academic and social problems remain but reported that the school was on track for a 69 percent graduation rate -- a mark that would be the highest since 2011.
Keisha Ross, a parent known as the “mom” for the football and boy’s basketball team, said she’ll remain a fixture at the school even after her son Payton graduates in June.
“The staff, the teacher they got over at Arlington -- you’ll find no one better than what they got right now,” she said. “They care about the students, they make sure they are on their Ps and Qs. They are not just their teachers -- they are fathers and mothers to these students, aunties and uncles and grandmothers.”
At a 9 a.m. meeting Friday, the State Board of Education will vote on the status of these three schools; three former-IPS schools run by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA: Emma Donnan Middle School, Emmerich Manual High School, and T.C. Howe Community High School; and Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy run by EdisonLearning.Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.