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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”