Would fewer IPS high schools lead to more advanced courses?

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Arsenal Tech, on the city's East side, is the largest IPS high school and has the most AP course offerings.

More advanced course options for Indianapolis Public Schools students is one possible advantage to changing the way high schools are arranged, especially if it results in more students in grades 9 to 12 grouped together on fewer campuses.

As part of a plan to push for more students to take Advanced Placement courses, school board members Tuesday discussed the idea of fewer high schools with more students in the future.

“You can offer more higher quality education options,” board member Sam Odle said. “There’s probably no other way to raise the quality of the options if we can’t get more students in the building.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has pushed for shifting junior high school students out of community and magnet high schools, which typically serve grades 7-12 or 6-12. Earlier this year, the board told him to create a plan to do so. The combined middle and high school was a major strategy for Ferebee’s predecessor, Eugene White, to try to curb dropouts in ninth grade.

Ferebee has said he prefers to move toward having more K-8 elementary schools, which would spread seventh and eighth graders across the city rather than congregate them in a smaller number of middle schools or combined high schools. Junior high schoolers have some of the lowest test scores in the district.

After that shift, he said, IPS could consider where the district’s roughly 6,000 high school students would best be housed.

“Collapsing 9 -12 into a smaller number of high schools allows us to offer more,” he said.

Ferebee has pointed out in the past that all of the district’s roughly 4,500 high school students who attend five general high schools — Arlington, Arsenal, Northwest, George Washington and John Marshall — could theoretically be housed at one site, perhaps the sprawling Arsenal Tech High School campus.

But other options could be two or three general education high schools. Last year, the largest of those schools, Arsenal, with 1,831 high school students, was almost twice the size of the next largest high school, Northwest, with 1,089. George Washington had 800 high school students, John Marshall had 595 and Arlington had 218.

Another 1,465 high school students attend four IPS magnet high schools — Crispus Attucks, Shortridge, Broad Ripple and Key Learning Community.

The big variation in high school size means vastly different Advance Placement offerings. Districtwide, IPS offers AP courses in 16 subjects: biology, calculus, computer science, Spanish language, U.S. History, world history, government and politics, chemistry, English language, English literature, environmental science, microeconomics, physics, statistics, studio art and music history.

But some IPS high schools offer as few as five of those. Right now, the principal decides which courses to offer based on student interest, teacher interest and by considering whether student SAT scores suggest they can handle the rigor of the course.

Last year just 9 percent of IPS high school students took an AP course. This year, that number is up to 12 percent. The district has set goals to reach 16 percent next year and 20 percent in 2017-18.

AP courses are a staple of academic plans for students who want to graduate with an Indiana Academic Honors Diploma. Last year, 17 percent of students were on track for that diploma. This year, the number is 19 percent. Again, the district’s goal is to boost those numbers to 21 percent next year and 23 percent in 2017-18.

To get there, The district is planning teacher training run by the College Board, the national organization that creates AP courses, as well as support for schools from curriculum coaches who can lead further training and planning meetings.

The district could start the transition toward more K-8 elementary schools as early as the 2016-17 school year. Ferebee has said since he arrived at IPS in 2012 that the district’s 12 grade configurations scattered among more than 60 schools is “convoluted” at best and unsafe at worst.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.