High school years

‘Fall was a big buildup of school spirit’: A Northwest alumnus remembers pep rallies, school plays, and some tension along the way, too.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Bill Franklin
Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980, as a high-schooler (left) and as an adult (right).

In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.

Want to share your own memories from one of these schools? Fill out this form.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)

Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980

Member, Class of 1980 reunion committee

Question: Can you tell us something about your memories from high school?
Answer: Northwest High School was a big part of my growing up. The neighborhood I lived in was right next door to the school, so it was within walking distance. And I have two older brothers who went to Northwest before me. So going to the football games on Friday nights was always a big thrilling event for me, going over to watch band practices and things like that. It was just a very good place to grow up, a very good school to go to at the time.

Q. What was the school like back then?
A. I was one of these weirdo kids who was always excited when the school year started, as opposed to ‘Oh no, summer’s over!’ Because it was a chance to go back to see the friends that you typically didn’t see over the summer, there was always new clothes to wear, and always the excitement of finding out what your classes were going to be like.

The fall was just a big buildup of school spirit because of the football games, and they would have pep rallies, and there was always the part of the pep rally where they would have the freshmen class make as much noise as they could, and then the sophomore class, and so on, and then it was judged who had the most spirit, which class it was. It was just always a good time.

Having said that, our school ratio honestly back then was probably 60 percent black and 40 percent white, so there were a couple years where there was a lot of tension early in the school year between black and white students. Sometimes it would be on the news. I do remember coming home from school one time and my mom asked me if anything had happened at the school and I said, ‘Not that I’m aware of.’ She said, ‘Well, the neighbor heard on the news that they were having problems at Northwest, some students threw rocks at a bus that was busing in black students from Indianapolis.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ (Franklin is white.)

That always seemed to be that way, just briefly at the beginning of the school year. I don’t know why, I never experienced anything myself. What was interesting was, like the cafeteria, it was kind of an unspoken or unwritten thing that the majority of the white students would sit on one side of the cafeteria and the majority of the black students would sit on the other. I thought that was kind of interesting, but again, I didn’t notice any trouble with that.

Q. Was this tension ever acknowledged by the school?
A. I just don’t think it was acknowledged. Maybe the administration just (thought) you know, as long as there’s nothing really going on with that, we’ll leave it alone. They didn’t want to get too involved in it. And like I said, it always worked itself out. Going through the hallways, between classes, I never saw anything, I never felt threatened. It was actually a good school to go to, I enjoyed it.

Q. What groups or clubs were you involved in?
A. The school curriculum was, you had to have at least one year of physical education, and so I did my one year and got out. I’m just not a sports-minded individual. Both of my brothers were, they played football all through high school, and I remember my dad telling me that when I got to high school, I’d be involved in some sort of sport activity. And I didn’t want to be. I got really involved in the arts – the art department, choir, theater, show choir. My parents noticed that I really enjoyed it, and did very well with it, and was very happy.

I remember absolutely every show I was in. We always did a fall play and a spring musical. I remember every play and musical I was in and whatever character I played. And Northwest was a fantastic school to do that in, because they have one of the largest auditoriums for a public school. So it was fun performing there, it was just great. The camaraderie in the theater department and the music department was really good.

In my junior year of high school, we did the fall play ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ and I was cast as the lead character, Tom. That was my biggest thing, being in that play as the lead. My junior year, we did the musical ‘Once Upon A Mattress,’ and I played the minstrel. My character was the very first character out on stage, and did a big solo number. We ended up taking that musical to state competition and we got number one musical in the state of Indiana.

Q. What did you think when you heard about the plan to convert Northwest into a middle school?
A. Well, I do know that the people on the (Class of 1980) reunion committee, when we first heard about Northwest closing, everyone was kind of in shock and sad to hear that, because it really was a good school back in our day. But we all knew that their enrollment had declined, and we had heard some of the wings weren’t even being used because they didn’t have the students they used to.

I live in Hendricks County. Everybody I know (from Northwest), nobody lives there, they don’t even have kids or grandkids who go there. So I don’t think a whole lot of people in my group are really affected by it, other than, it’s just sad to hear.

High school years

This Arlington alumnus remembers a strong and supportive high school community. Now he wants the chance to pay it forward.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Arlington alumni association president Tim Bass with a photo of his former speech and drama teacher, Daveda Wyatt.

In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.

Want to share your own memories from one of these schools? Fill out this form.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Arlington alumni association president Timothy Bass, Sr. in his senior yearbook.

Timothy Bass, Sr., Arlington High School Class of 1982

President, Arlington High School Alumni Association

I’ve been a resident here in Indianapolis almost all my life; all my brothers, all my sisters, we all went to Arlington High School. My mother still lives on the east side, and has been over there almost 46 years. We’ve been in that community since 1971.

Question: What was Arlington like back then?
Answer: A lot of school pride – when I went there, there were about 2,600 students in all four classes. It was a very large school.

It was more of an attraction. There was a whole lot more things to offer kids then than today. I know the numbers alone in IPS – Arlington has anywhere from six to seven hundred students – but my argument is, how are you going to attract students to come to a school like Arlington if you’re not going to put better curriculum inside the school?

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Bass points to images of students in welding and home economics classes in his senior yearbook. Bass said students in his time had more opportunities to take advanced or technical courses.

Back then, there were a lot of sheet metal or welding and woodworking, arts and crafts, there was show choir and band and orchestra. I mean, this was a school with 2,600 students. I was in concert choir and show choir. Those were the types of programs that the public schools offered in the early ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. If you had dreams to become whatever, you could take those courses. Arsenal Tech has automotives and barbering (now), where you can learn certain trades and fields. In the public schools back then, you could take those trades at your home school.

When the school first opened, a lot of teachers I talk to, they’ll tell you that Arlington was no different from (elite private schools like) Park Tudor or Brebeuf. Students would cash out – when they went to Rose Hulman or Purdue, there were certain courses that they didn’t have to take because they already took them at Arlington.

Q. What was the relationship with the surrounding community?
A. Back in the day, many of us that lived in the Arlington community and neighborhood, we all walked to school. We all went to the same grade school, and all the kids that went to that school lived in the neighborhood. The community was at its peak. Businesses were growing, the values of the homes were up, because everybody lived in the community. It was like one big family. A lot of schools in that area fed into Arlington High School, that’s why the (high school enrollment) was so large, like 2,600, 2,800, because there were maybe eight elementary schools that existed back 30 years ago in that community.

The neighborhood was like a family. If I got in trouble, my neighbors saw it, they would get on me just like my parents would get on me, and then they would tell my parents later. Everybody looked out for one another.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Photos of past teachers and students fill the walls of the alumni room at Arlington High School. In black and white are former speech and drama teacher Daveda Wyatt (top) and former biology teacher William Bess (bottom), the first African American teacher at the school.

Q. Who were the teachers that had an influence on you?
A. My speech teacher Mrs. Wyatt — she was a speech teacher there, a drama teacher, in charge of all the plays that we did at Arlington. She was more than just a teacher, she was a mother figure. I remember back in 1980, my dad suffered a heart attack, and we didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. Because I was very close to my dad, I was struggling in her class and she saw how I was struggling, and one day she asked me to stay after school. And we had that conversation, I shared with her what I was going through, and the encouragement she gave me, it stayed with me until right now. She’s the reason why I do what I do for Arlington, going back and giving to those kids who I know need a strong support system.


PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Supplies for the alumni snack pantry line a bookshelf at Arlington High School. Alumni donate money and food to the pantry, so students staying after school can have something to eat.

Q. What does the alumni association do today?
A. We started an alumni snack pantry for the students at Arlington to help with some of the hunger that’s going on in our public schools. We have alumni who are part of the Walker Scholarship Foundation; for the past few years, we have been sending kids to college debt-free. This year we sent 15 students. Giving kids support, giving kids the opportunity to benefit, is what the alumni have been able to do.

When Arlington came back (to IPS after state takeover) a couple years ago, it opened with many, many challenges. Arlington for years had a bad name, like people were afraid to tell other people they had graduated from Arlington because of all the negative stuff people were saying. But the last 3 years, everybody who graduated from Arlington now has a sense of pride because now everybody is coming together on one accord, trying to save kids. It makes us all like one big family. Our slogan is, since day one, “Together we can, Together we will” because we believe it really takes a village to help these kids today.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
The alumni room at Arlington High School. Bass said students and teachers use this room during the school day to take a breath and meditate before returning to class.

Q. What do you think about the proposed closing?
A. There’s a recommendation for Arlington to become a middle school and all that is is a recommendation. We as the alumni we’re fighting that recommendation to keep Arlington open as a high school. I know that we may be fighting a decision that’s already been made, but we’d rather go out fighting than have that regret later.

I think that the board and Dr. Ferebee just haven’t given Arlington enough time to be successful. This is just the third school year, and the school has made significant progress. So all we’re asking the board and Dr. Ferebee, at least give us five years to see what we could do!

We feel like we deserve a chance to show everybody that this school can be what it was when it opened in 1961. We’re showing them there are a lot of things happening at Arlington High School that they aren’t even aware of.

School Closings

Ahead of school closure vote, New York City families protest and anxiously await new options

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
P.S. 92 parent Jeanelle Valet protested that school's closure at recent rally in front of the education department's headquarters.

When Jeanelle Valet learned that the city planned to close P.S. 92, the Bronx elementary school her three children attend, she struggled to understand why.

She knew the school had a history of low performance, but it seemed to be working for her children. And it didn’t take much research to find other schools with lower attendance rates and similar test scores that avoided a spot on the closure list.

“I have gone through a lot of data for all these other schools,” Valet boomed through a megaphone as she stood on the steps of the education department’s headquarters, where advocates and parents gathered this week in protest. “There are other schools on the ‘Renewal’ list that aren’t getting closed that should be closed.”

On Wednesday, an oversight panel will vote on the city’s plans to shutter 13 schools — including P.S. 92 and seven others in the city’s “Renewal” improvement program — that officials decided are too low performing or have shed too many students to keep open. It’s the largest single round of closures since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014.

School closures are inherently disruptive and controversial — even schools with dismal academic records can inspire fierce loyalty from families and educators. The outcry against closures was loud and sustained under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who shut down dozens of low-performing schools and replaced them with new ones.

De Blasio has weathered a much smaller backlash because he has shuttered far fewer schools and on account of his $582 million Renewal program, which has flooded low-performing schools with extra social services and academic support rather than immediately closing them. Yet his approach has invited its own set of critiques.

The fact that de Blasio promised to “move heaven and earth” through his Renewal program to revamp troubled schools has prompted even some allies to question whether the program has fallen short. And the small number of closures has left parents like Valet wondering why their school was targeted when others were spared, and has fueled suspicions among some that de Blasio may be making space for more charter schools. (An education department spokesman denied that and said only four of 18 schools set to be closed or merged will be replaced by charter schools.)

Now, even as families at some of the schools rally against the closures, they are also wondering where their children will end up if the plans go through. While the city has promised to place them in higher-performing alternatives, many are skeptical — and still waiting for details.

“No one has told us anything,” Valet said.

The Panel for Educational Policy — an oversight board where the majority of members are appointed by the mayor — will vote on the closures Wednesday evening. In the past, it has signed off on nearly all of the city’s proposed closures, though five of the 13 members voted against shuttering a Bronx middle school last year. If the latest round of closures are approved, 26 of the original 94 Renewal schools will have been closed or merged with other schools.

Since launching the Renewal program in 2014, de Blasio has made clear that he would consider shutting down schools that failed to make “fast and intense” improvements after receiving extra support. Still, that has not insulated him from attacks from all sides: Critics of his approach say he should have closed the worst-off schools sooner rather than spending years trying to save them, while some ideological allies question his decision to close any schools at all.

“This administration, like its predecessor, relies too frequently on school closings as a remedy for failing schools,” Public Advocate Letitia James wrote in a recent letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Rather than helping students, closures disrupt whole communities.”

Even the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education — which has generally endorsed de Blasio’s turnaround strategy — implied in a statement last week that the city was partly to blame for some schools’ failure to improve, saying that the Renewal program’s support for schools has been “uneven.”

The group also argued that the education department “arbitrarily” targeted schools for closure — echoing a complaint made by many families and faculty members.

For instance, supporters of P.S./M.S. 42 in Queens have pointed out that the school has made gains on its test scores and quality reviews — even outperforming a number of other Renewal schools. Yet it is one of the schools slated for closure.

In the past, education department officials have said they consider a range of factors when deciding which schools to close.

“We look carefully at a school’s test scores, attendance, graduation rates, classroom instruction, leadership and the school’s overall trajectory for success,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman said in a statement. “For each school proposed for closure, we believe that students will be better served at a higher performing school.”

But critics say it’s often unclear how those criteria are applied to individual schools.

“There’s a lack of clarity, a randomness, in how schools are closed,” said Angelica Otero, executive director at Bronx Power, an organization that has organized parents against the closures. “That’s what feels really unfair.”

Adding to the frustration, de Blasio recently reversed his administration’s decision to close a Brooklyn high school. Because he cited community pressure, the reversal raised questions about whether politics play a role in closure decisions — while also giving other schools hope that protests might change the mayor’s mind.

“We were like, ‘Okay, it’s possible,’” Otero said when Brooklyn Collegiate was taken off the closure list. “Let’s keep working.” (Aciman, the education department spokesman, said the city reversed the planned closure after the community raised concerns about “limited high school options in Brownsville.”)

While families fight the closures, they are also worried about what will happen if they lose. City officials have promised to help students in the closing schools enroll in ones that are better performing. However, a Chalkbeat analysis found that students leaving closed schools often attend others that still perform below the city average.

Meanwhile, several parents said they are anxiously awaiting the individual enrollment help that city officials say is coming in early March after the closure plans are formally approved. For now, many parents like Magdalana Espinosa, who has children at two different Renewal schools slated for closure, do not know where their children are headed after their schools shut down.

“I’m not sure where I’m going to put my kids,” she said.