School Closings

Thousands of Indianapolis high schoolers are applying for school as district goes all magnet

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students walk through the halls at the Career Technology Center at Arsenal Technical High School.

Thousands of Indianapolis high schoolers are making a choice this fall that could disrupt friendships, reconfigure sports teams and shape futures: Where to go to high school.

In recent weeks, freshman, sophomores and juniors across Indianapolis Public Schools have begun choosing where they hope to go to school next year as the district closes nearly half of its high schools and pushes teens to choose their campus based on academic focus rather than neighborhood.

The district will close three high schools next fall and open magnet academies with academic and career focuses, such as health science and information technology, at the remaining four campuses.

“We want to ensure that they are choosing a high school because they want to be a part of those academies,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. “That will be really important because students will be expected to dive into those academies.”

The administration has pitched the all-choice approach as a way of getting students engaged and interested in high school. But for students, the decision of where to go to school often hinges on more personal factors.

When Brandon Henderson’s family moved to Wayne Township, he was supposed to go to Ben Davis High School, which has many career and technical programs. But Henderson, a sophomore who hopes to become an engineer, said he chose to stay at George Washington High School to be with his girlfriend, Carmella Johnson.

If they have to move to another campus, so be it, said Johnson. “It’s just a school,” she added.

Johnson was not alone in her attitude. In interviews the day after the IPS board voted to create academies, some students raised concerns about the plans while others were supportive, but none seemed overly anxious about the changes.

“It don’t matter, you know. I got a spot here for next year,” said Wade Waites, a junior at George Washington. “Whatever extra activities that they might have, that I can learn something and pick up an extra career, I’m down for it, man. I’m down for it.”

The administration is requiring students in schools that will remain open, as well as students at campuses that will close, to select their top school choices. Nearly all students in magnet programs have completed the process so far and “well above” half of students in neighborhood high schools have as well, said Patrick Herrel, who oversees IPS enrollment.

Current students in magnets can choose to stay in their programs at Crispus Attucks High School, Arsenal Technical High School, and Shortridge High School. Students can also remain in the visual and performing arts and humanities programs, which are moving from Broad Ripple High School to Shortridge.

But students in traditional neighborhood high schools will be required to choose new programs. That includes hundreds of teens enrolled in George Washington and the neighborhood program at Arsenal Tech, as well as students who will be displaced when Northwest and Arlington high schools close. The exception is rising seniors at schools that will remain open, who can choose to stay at their current campuses.

The district will send students new assignments by Nov. 13, said Herrel. That will give students who are not happy with their assignments time to reapply to high schools through Enroll Indy.

“The goal is that everyone gets their first choice, and we are very hopeful that we will be able to achieve that,” Herrel said.

But if there are not enough spots in a program for all the interested students, the district will make assignments by lottery. Students at schools that are closing will get priority. But students won’t have priority to stay at their neighborhood campus, so a sophomore at George Washington, for example, could potentially be forced to move.

Even following the high school closures, IPS will have thousands of extra high school seats. But if any programs prove unexpectedly popular, it’s possible that current students could be displaced.

That was concerning to Jessica Smith, a senior at George Washington, who said that she’s unsure about the career academy plan because when students start high school, many of them don’t know what they want to do after they graduate.

Students who live in the area should be able to stay at the school, she said. “Some kids walk to school, and they don’t like taking the bus.”

The administration considered giving current students priority in the assignment lottery, said Ferebee, but it wasn’t feasible.

“If you give everybody priority,” said Ferebee. “Priority isn’t priority.”

new schools

New $85 million Englewood high school to focus on science and technology, careers

PHOTO: Chicago Public Schools
A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

Chicago Public Schools announced Monday that it will open a “state-of-the-art” high school focusing on career-preparation and math, science and engineering education in Englewood, a South Side community where the district is closing several high schools.

Englewood STEM High School already under construction, will open next fall with just freshman and add a grade each subsequent year until it becomes a full-fledged 9-12 school in the 2022-23 school year, according to a press release issued by the school district.

The school will be the district’s ninth “early college” STEM high school, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The district is building the $85 million school on the site of Robeson High School, which was closed over the summer.

Englewood STEM High School will be “a brand new, state-of-the-art, three-story facility that will include world-class multipurpose educational spaces, a modern outdoor sports facility, and a school-based medical center for use by both students as well as community residents,” according to the district’s statement. Students will be able to earn college credits and certificates through a partnership with Kennedy-King College. The school will also offer vocational programs in information technology and health sciences and will provide mentoring, internships and other work experiences.

“We are thrilled to bring together Englewood students in the state-of-the-art high school they deserve with world-class academic programming that will ensure the new school rivals the city’s best,” district CEO Janice Jackson said in a statement.

A rendering of the new $85 million high school planned in Englewood.

The school is intended to attract students in the Robeson, Hope and Harper school areas who leave their neighborhoods for higher-rated schools elsewhere. Both Hope and Harper are slated to close. TEAM Englewood, the fourth school closing, doesn’t have attendance boundaries.

The district named Conrad Timbers-Ausar as the new school’s principal. Timbers-Ausar was previously principal of charter school Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, in Bronzeville. He was the founding principal at two alternative schools, Ombudsman West and Ombudsman South, and has taught history, graphic design and entrepreneurship at the Chicago International Charter Schools Ralph Ellison campus, where he was twice voted teacher of the year.

Future of Schools

Chicago’s public school system is still shrinking, new data shows

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Charles Wiriawan

After 15 years of consecutive drops, the number of students enrolled in Chicago’s public schools fell again this year.

Enrollment dropped 2.7 percent, to 361,314 students, from the previous fall, according to a count taken on the 20th day of school. New data were released Friday. (The district also released new school ratings on Friday. You can find your school’s latest rating here.)

Size matters, because the number of students determines how many critical state dollars a district receives. In Chicago, state funding accounts for roughly 30 percent of the district budget, including paying into the employee pension fund.

At the school level, per-student funding determines how many teachers a principal can hire, whether or not there are librarians and arts teachers, and how many programs are offered. Principals received this school year’s budgets last spring based on prior year counts.

Schools that lost students will not lose funding for this year; however, 54 schools that anticipated growth and that did not hit targets will lose money. The average adjustment per school is $59,000, with $3.2 million in total forfeited, the district said. The district said in a statement that it will not eliminate any jobs as a result.

On the flip side, the district also announced that schools that gained students since last school year would receive additional funding — to total $15.5 million across 307 schools. That’s to account for budgeting that was based on previous year counts.

“The district’s improved financial position means we can support growing schools and invest more in schools where enrollment is declining with funds specifically designed to support schools that are underenrolled,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson.

Plans to support schools losing population include such assists as a $10 million small schools fund and a new underenrolled schools policy — passed by the board this week — that codifies alternatives to closure.

The number of students in Chicago charters declined by 1 percent to total 54,569, and the number of prekindergarten students dropped by less than 1 percent, too, to 17,668, despite a citywide push under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Chicago schools aren’t the only ones shrinking. Enrollment is down across the state. A declining birth rate, fewer immigrants, and a population in retrenchment are all to blame.

District projections show Chicago schools losing another 20,000 students across the next three years. The trends mirror population drops in Chicago, which has about 182,000 fewer residents than it did 18 years ago, according to U.S. Census data. More than 220,000 black residents have left the city since the year 2000.