School Closings

At painful meeting, Indianapolis superintendent makes case for closing high schools: ‘The status quo is not good enough’

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
IPS leaders are considering a plan to close three high schools.

Emotions were running high at Indianapolis Public Schools headquarters Thursday as the administration laid out plans for closing three of the district’s seven high schools. There were pleas for other ideas from frustrated community members. At least one board member cried at the prospect of closing a beloved school.

But in the end, there was little indication that the plan to close Northwest, Arlington and Broad Ripple high schools would change. The board will vote on the proposal this September.

The room was crowded with alumni, families and staff from the schools facing closure and skeptics of the district’s collaboration with charter schools.

Community members understand that the district faces a weighty decision, said Yvette Coleman-Foreste, an alumni of Arlington and member of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority that supports Northwest.

“But we want to also ask the question,” she continued, “Was this not purposed by design? Couldn’t there have been something that could’ve (been) done before we reached this point in time?”

Despite that criticism, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration focused on not only showing the necessity of change, but also laying out an optimistic vision for the future.

With fewer high schools, the district would be able to invest in specialized career academies that prepare students for college and help them develop in-demand, marketable skills, Ferebee said. That’s essential, he argued, because economic mobility is low in the city — poor children in Indianapolis have a far lower chance of achieving prosperity than in other metro areas.

“The status quo is not good enough,” he said. “We’re not doing our job preparing our students to take care of themselves and their families. … I refuse to continue to shortchange our students the best experience possible that will prepare them for the next phase of their lives.”

The administration also suggested that redesigning IPS high schools would help attract students who are currently choosing private, charter or township schools.

But in a mark of the distrust between some community members and the district leadership, IPS parent Chrissy Smith questioned whether the administration would use the money saved by closing high schools wisely.

“How is this board and administration going to guarantee students, parents and taxpayers that the savings from closing buildings and disrupting our students education will actually go back to the classrooms?” she asked.

Closing high schools is always painful for communities, but the issue is particularly controversial in Indianapolis because the district is adding a growing number of charter schools to its innovation network.

Innovation schools have the flexibility of charter schools but can receive district services such as transportation. IPS gets credit from the state for their results on tests and other measures, but it has little control over innovation schools’ daily operation — and their teachers work for the charter or nonprofit managers.

Like other community members and parents who spoke out at the board meeting, Smith is a frequent critic of the administration’s collaboration with charter schools. The decision to approve three innovation high schools earlier this year seemed to rub salt in the wound left by possible high school closures.

“Why are we supporting innovation and charter schools, while closing IPS schools?” Smith asked. “If IPS doesn’t have enough money to operate the high schools we have, why are we paying for three … new charter innovation high schools?”

The board members who spoke Thursday were supportive of the proposal for adding career academies to high schools, but some were emotional at the prospect of closing beloved high schools.

Board member Kelly Bentley, who graduated from Broad Ripple, was choked with tears as she spoke about the school.

“I do not minimize at all, not for one minute, your love of the school and the memories you hold so dear,” she said. But “emotions and memories aside, there is simply no way that our district can continue to grow and fund critical needs … while maintaining a 37 percent occupancy rate at our high school level.”

They also appeared keenly aware of the wave of criticism they have drawn in the weeks since the district revealed plans to close schools.

Board member Venita Moore, who graduated from Arlington, said that she has heard many times that the board is not listening, does not hear and does not care.

“I stand here to say before you today that I did hear, we are listening and we do care,” Moore said. “We will find a way to ensure … that you have an opportunity to help shape the district, but we all know that the district must change.”

new year

Here are the Memphis schools opening and closing this school year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Alcy Elementary Schools is being demolished this summer to make way for a new building on the same property that will also house students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.

Six schools will open and six will close as the new school year begins next month.

This year’s closures are composed mostly of charter schools. That’s a shift from recent years — about two dozen district-run schools have shuttered since 2012. All of the schools opening are charter schools, bringing the district’s total to 57, which is more than half of the charter schools statewide.

Below is a list of closures and openings Chalkbeat has compiled from Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools Opening

  • Believe Memphis Academy is a new college preparatory charter school that will focus on literacy while serving students in fourth and fifth grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade.
  • Crosstown High School will focus on creating student projects that solve problems of local businesses and organizations. The school will start with 150 ninth-graders and will be housed in a building shared with businesses and apartments in Crosstown Concourse, a renovated Sears warehouse.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy will open its fifth school starting with middle schoolers. It will eventually expand to create the Memphis network’s second high school in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.
  • Memphis Business Academy will open an elementary school and a middle school in Hickory Hill. The schools were originally slated to open in 2017, but were delayed to finalize property and financing, CEO Anthony Anderson said.
  • Perea Elementary School will focus on emotional health and community supports for families living in poverty. District leaders initially rejected its application, but school board members approved it. They liked the organization’s academic and community work with preschoolers in the same building.

Schools Closing

  • Alcy Elementary School will be demolished this summer to make room for a new building. It is expected to open in 2020 with students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.
  • Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy will close. The charter network’s founder, Willie Herenton, a former Memphis school superintendent, said in April the schools are closing because of a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
  • GRAD Academy, part of the Achievement School District, announced in January the high school would close because the Houston-based charter organization could not sustain it. It was the third school in the district to close since the state-run district started in 2012.
  • Legacy Leadership Academy is closing after its first year because the charter organization lost its federal nonprofit status, and enrollment was low.
  • Manor Lake Elementary is closing to merge with nearby Geeter Middle School because low enrollment made for extra room in their buildings. The new Geeter K-8 will join eight others in the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a neighborhood school improvement program started by Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School.

School Closings

Memphis charter school signs lease within district boundaries, allowing it to stay open

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones
The Bartlett storefront Gateway University High School used for the 2017-18 school year.

A Memphis charter school on the brink of closure over the location of its building has signed a lease within Shelby County Schools’ boundaries.

Gateway University High School will move into Holy Nation Church of Memphis on Brownsville Road near Craigmont High School after being in a Memphis suburb since opening in August 2017, according to a spokeswoman for the charter school.

In response, Shelby County Schools will pull its recommendation to revoke the school’s charter, according to the school board’s agenda. The district had called for the school’s closure because of a new state law that prohibits charter schools operating outside of the authorizing district’s limits.

The Tennessee Department of Education gave school leaders until July 1 to comply with an attorney general’s opinion issued in September and to comply with the school’s contract that stated it would operate “within the local school district of Shelby County, Tennessee.” Their previous building was a storefront in Bartlett.

The board was set to vote on the matter Tuesday — five days before the state’s deadline.