Closing John Marshall, absorbing students into Arlington may be IPS' next move

Closing John Marshall High School may be the key to keeping Arlington High School alive.

That was the plan that got the most support today from the Indianapolis Public School Board as district leaders discussed the schools’ future. IPS could merge the two East Side schools into Arlington High School’s building as early as next school year if district leaders can get the state to follow their plan for removing Arlington from state takeover.

The idea had strong support, but board members were also cautious.

“I know how traumatic school closings are to communities,” board member Diane Arnold said. “I worry about what that impact is. I think it’s a good idea, but is there a way for us to make it a win-win?”

Arlington was severed from school district control in 2012 after receiving six straight years of F grades from the state based on low test scores and turned over to be managed by Tindley Schools (formerly EdPower), an Indianapolis-based charter school network.

Earlier this summer, Tindley officials shocked the Indiana State Board of Education by asking to be released from their contract to run the school, saying the state was not providing enough money. The move raised questions about whether state takeover can be effectively managed.

IPS would like to have Arlington back, but it needs the blessing of a skeptical state board.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and school board members spent much of this morning considering how to craft a transition plan for Arlington to pitch the state when it takes up the question in October.

Closing John Marshall was the idea that got the most attention. Both schools serve grades 7 to 12 and Arlington can hold more than 2,000 students. John Marshall’s nearly 1,000 students could be merged with Arlington’s roughly 400 students at Arlington’s recently renovated East side building about five miles away. But details need to be worked out.

“I love the idea of combining John Marshall and Arlington,” IPS board member Caitlin Hannon said. “If I were the state board, my reaction would be (wondering) what’s the actual plan for making it successful.”

John Marshall also has experienced troublingly low academic performance. It narrowly avoided state takeover in 2012, and instead was assigned a “lead partner” to help improve the school. The partner is an outside group, The New Teacher Project, which helped Broad Ripple High School improve its performance after a similar stretch of F grades.

Other options for Arlington the board discussed included closing the school and reassigning its students to other schools or using a new state law that allows the district to partner with a different charter school management group to run the school.

Ferebee said working with a charter school operator to run Arlington High School could also work. So far, he said, one has expressed interest: Lighthouse Academies, which runs three local charter schools.

The idea to merge John Marshall and Arlington had the broadest support among board members, who considered ideas like a complete overhaul that would involve changing the school’s name, making the academic offerings technology- and career-focused, or eventually creating a magnet program there.

“I’d love to do it with a bang,” board member Gayle Cosby said. “I’d like it to be a grand reopening … powerful and positive.”

Ferebee said keeping the building open as-is with so few students would be difficult.

“There’s a small student population and a massive facility there,” Ferebee said. “That’s the challenge Tindley is in right now.”

If John Marshall closed, board members said they would likely shelve the building, which they said has fallen into disrepair with asbestos and mold issues, or lease it to another group such as a charter school operator.

But closing John Marshall, board members said, would not be taken lightly.

Board member Sam Odle said it would take careful planning and execution to make a merger successful.

“Consolidating is a good idea but how do we execute it in a way that’s going to be seen as an improvement?” Odle said. “Call it the Eastside Career Academy. Something new is not combining the old.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede