Community responds: Plan to merge Arlington, John Marshall raises concerns

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
An Arlington High School student speaks at a public meeting hosted by IPS to discuss the future of the school that is being transitioned from state takeover.

The Indianapolis Public School Board pitched a proposal in September to merge Arlington and John Marshall high schools, but at a public feedback meeting Wednesday, several speakers said they were against the idea.

Retired IPS Principal Michael Chisley said he feared a combined school wouldn’t work.

“Anytime you merge two schools, you have problems,” he said.

The merger was the school board’s “preferred option” proposed to the Indiana State Board of Education late last year to win approval for Arlington to be returned to IPS control this summer after three years of outside management. The state board severed Arlington from the district after six straight years of F grades in 2012, handing it off to be run by Tindley Schools, a charter school operator.

But at the start of the school year, Tindley asked out of its contract, saying it could no longer afford to manage the school unless the state was willing to offer up more aid. It wasn’t.

IPS is eager to have the school back, but resistance to the idea of merger was so strong that Superintendent Lewis Ferebee stressed the board’s preference was not a final decision and other options would be considered.

“We’re going back to the drawing board,” Ferebee said. “Nothing’s off the table, nothing’s on the table. There’s a lot for us to consider and we want to ensure we think about every angle in terms of having a successful transition.”

Marshall is about five miles east of Arlington, serving a different neighborhood on the far East side of the city. The merger idea caught school and neighborhood leaders off guard when it was announced. Among the concerns of supporters of both schools is that mixing students from different neighborhoods together in a larger school could cause tension and fights.

English teacher Kathryn Council was one of several people concerned about student safety. She was one of about 60 people who attended the meeting.

“A lot of my students are super concerned about kids coming from John Marshall,” Council said. “I’ve heard them say ‘I don’t want to come back if John Marshall comes here.’ No kid should have to be afraid. School is supposed to be a safe haven.”

But Ferebee, who said IPS will soon start the process of hiring a new principal for Arlington, was less concerned, given that many IPS schools have students from different parts of town.

“There’s always this worry about ‘I’m from this neighborhood, you’re from that neighborhood,’” Ferebee said. “We’ll have an opportunity to have class together in a safe and orderly environment. Most of the time, our students get it right. I think some of the time, the adults struggle with that more than our students.”

Others at the public meeting said they hoped the Northeast side would come together to support the school, regardless of what it looks like next year.

“We cannot let Arlington go down the drain,” said Gloria Sam, a retired teacher who sent two children to IPS schools. “We’re going to have to use some elbow grease and get in the trenches and stop talking all the time and do the walking.”

Arlington is one of four IPS schools taken over by the state in 2012, plus one in Gary. It is the first takeover school to begin the process of returning to school district control. The transition back is expected to be complete by June.

What began as a tense relationship, with the takeover organizations complaining early on that IPS was resisting cooperation with them, has evolved into a workable arrangement, Ferebee said. IPS even took over ground maintenance, sports field maintenance and snow removal at Arlington to keep the school running this year after Tindley said it couldn’t afford to anymore.

“There is no division,” Ferebee said. “That’s done and in the past and we’re moving forward.”

But many questions remain about how the transition will work. A student speaker asked if the teachers she’s comes to rely on would stay employed at the new Arlington High School.

Tindley CEO Marcus Robinson said he’s not sure what will happen to current Arlington teachers, who are employed by Tindley, not IPS. He said he’d work with them to find jobs within other Tindley schools, but that many have developed an affinity for their students and may want to apply to IPS to stay at the building. Ferebee said teachers could apply to stay at the school.

“Our job right now is to make sure the transition is smooth,” Robinson. “It will come down to what the teacher really prefers. We want to see it work. We care very much about the future of this building and this school community.”

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.