School Closings

Broad Ripple is one of three Indianapolis high schools facing closure

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Broad Ripple high School is one of three schools that the IPS administration recommended closing.

Broad Ripple, Arlington and Northwest high schools would close under a plan released today by Indianapolis Public Schools.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s proposal would spare the four high schools closest to the core of the district: George Washington, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Arsenal Technical High School.

The IPS Board is not expected to vote on the plan until September, but if the board approves it, the district would convert Northwest and Arlington high schools to middle schools. It would also close John Marshall, which is scheduled to open as a middle school this fall.

Specialized academies where students can study subjects such as information technology, health sciences and teaching would be housed in the four remaining schools, which would all be magnets. The arts and humanities magnet programs at Broad Ripple would relocate to Shortridge, which would continue to operate the International Baccalaureate program. Students from across the district would choose from any of the four schools.

The four schools that would remain open are near the city’s downtown core. One reason the administration is aiming to close the high schools on the edge of the district is because having more centrally located schools would help reduce transportation costs and the length of bus rides for students, said IPS operations officer David Rosenberg.

In a system of all magnet high schools, “it makes sense to ensure that the majority of high schools that remain open are more centrally located,” Ferebee said. “We believe that this high school model is the best model for our students.”

The proposal builds on an earlier recommendation to close three unnamed high schools. In the weeks since the recommendation to close high schools was released, the administration has hosted several public meetings where parents, students and alumni spoke out against closing their schools. Tuesday night, just hours before the administration released its plan, critics held a protest against closing high schools outside a school board meeting.

Some of the fiercest criticism of the move has come from parents and community members who oppose the district’s increasing collaboration with charter schools. They have called out district leaders for looking to close traditional high schools at the same time that the district is adding three charter high schools to the innovation network. As innovation schools, they are considered part of the district but they have the flexibility of charter schools, and their teachers are not part of the teachers union because they work for the charter school managers.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Dountonia Batts

“This board is considering closing high schools while simultaneously approving charter schools that have no accountability to the public but access to public funds,” parent Dountonia Batts told the IPS board Tuesday. “IPS is destroying its own infrastructure that takes the public voice out of public education.”

The more detailed plan released today is sure to draw a fresh wave of opposition now that residents know which schools are targeted for closure. Passionate alumni and students from Broad Ripple have been some of the most vocal defenders of their high school, which is one of oldest campuses in the district and the home of a beloved arts magnet program.

Meanwhile, a district-led meeting near the Arlington campus was so crowded that some people were turned away. The school went through years of turmoil after it was taken over by the state for poor performance, and alumni have become staunch advocates.

Northwest is one of the largest high schools in IPS, with enrollment expected to exceed 700 students next year, and it is one of the newest buildings in the district. But that was not enough to spare the school from closure. Like the other targeted schools, it is on the distant edge of the district, making it difficult to transport students from other neighborhoods.

Here are some more details on the plans for buildings and academic programs:

Buildings

In a move that may appease some critics, the plan also calls for closing two administrative buildings and colocating staff at school campuses: Forest Manor, at 4501 E. 32nd Street, and the Facilities Maintenance Department, at 1129 East 16th Street. Forest Manor houses offices for staff in several departments, including special education, English as a second language and school turnaround. Under the plan, they would relocate to the Arlington campus where they would share a building with a new middle school. The facilities department would also move to school campuses, with some of the department moving to the Francis Bellamy preschool center and some sharing space with a new middle school at Northwest.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

If the district follows through with the reshuffling in the proposal, it would result in four empty buildings: Broad Ripple, John Marshall, Forest Manor and the Facilities Maintenance Department. Both Broad Ripple and the Facilities Maintenance Department are in economically thriving areas, and the district expects that it could sell those properties for several million dollars each.

The plans for Forest Manor are less clear. They call for selling the building to eliminate the cost of maintenance. But it could also be used to house a charter school that joins the district innovation network. In its application for a charter, the proposed KIPP Indy High School listed Forest Manor as its first choice for a location.

Finding a new use for John Marshall could be more challenging: The administration does not yet have a redevelopment plan, and the report calls for working with community partners “to ensure a viable reuse to add to the community.”

Academic Programs

Each of the four remaining high schools would offer several career academies.

Shortridge: The humanities and visual and performing arts magnet programs at Broad Ripple would move to Shortridge, which would continue to offer the International Baccalaureate program. It will also offer computer science and engineering programs.

George Washington: As the only traditional high school that would remain, the near west side high would have several new academies programs, including advanced manufacturing, information technology and business.

Crispus Attucks: The storied high school near downtown would continue to offer the health science magnet program, and it would add a teacher training career track.

Arsenal: The district’s largest high school already houses several magnet and career and technical education programs. Under the current plan, it would offer programs in career technology (which includes subjects from cooking to diesel service), military training and construction. It would also maintain the magnet programs for law and public policy, math and science, and New Tech, a project-based learning school.

blast from the past

Harkening back to earlier era, struggling New York City school fights closure but faces long odds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kevin Morgan, the Parent Association president at P.S./M.S. 42, is leading a fight to keep the Rockaway school open.

A decade ago, teachers picketed P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam in Rockaway, Queens and declared the campus unsafe. Parents said the building was in horrible shape — some areas reeked of urine — and they petitioned the education department to close the school and start over.

But when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he had a different idea: Rather than shut its doors, he would revamp it. After three years in de Blasio’s “Renewal” improvement program, which injects troubled schools with academic supports and social services, P.S./M.S. 42 appeared to be making progress: Its test scores and quality reviews have steadily improved. Enrollment, while lower this year, has mostly been stable.

So when the education department announced plans last month to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 and 13 other low-performing schools, many in the school community were shocked.

“We think that this is a mistake,” said Donovan Richards, the local city councilman who said that when he met with schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña shortly before the announcement, far from declaring the school a lost cause, she praised its recent strides and discussed ways to celebrate them.

“You have this glimmer of hope and turnaround in the building,” he added, “and yet we’re reversing the progress.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents used to complain about poor conditions at P.S./M.S. 42, which has since built a new addition.

Now, parents, teachers and local political leaders are vowing to fight its closure. The coalition has launched an aggressive social media campaign, printed highlighter-yellow T-shirts declaring the school “strong and united,” and planned rallies at the school and in Albany, where the school’s supporters traveled Tuesday to make their case to state lawmakers.

On a recent morning, Kevin Morgan, the school’s parent association president, went to his local congress member’s office to appeal for help, and brought in a motivational speaker to inspire students as they drafted essays in defense of their school.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “They need to rethink what they’re about to do. How is this going to affect these children?”

The fight puts the mayor in the uncomfortable position of defending the closure of a low-performing school despite signs of improvement and vocal opposition from some parents — a scenario he railed against when running to replace then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At the time, de Blasio blasted Bloomberg for disregarding the will of parents in his zeal to shutter and replace troubled schools without first giving them a chance to rebound.

Now, after investing $582 million in a program meant to offer bottom-ranked schools the second chance he said they had been denied, de Blasio finds himself coming to the same conclusion as his predecessor: Some underachieving schools simply can’t be resuscitated — at least not quickly enough — so better to pull the plug and start fresh.

“After a serious effort, we do not think, with their current structures, they can make it,” de Blasio said on NY1 the day the closures were announced. Still, he defended the turnaround effort, saying that, without it, “we would have continued to see closures without an honest effort to fix the problem.”

In the case of P.S./M.S. 42, the education department is proposing to replace it with two new schools — an elementary school and a middle school — in the same building.

It’s likely they will serve many of the same students as the school they’re supplanting, though some parents worry the new schools may deploy admissions criteria that will screen out some of P.S./M.S. 42’s current students. An education department spokesman said the new schools would not turn away any P.S./M.S. 42 students. The new schools may also employ many of the same teachers, under a contract rule that says at least half the positions in replacement schools must be offered to teachers at closed schools who apply and hold the right qualifications.

P.S./M.S. 42 boosters hope the new schools never have a chance to open. But they face long odds: Under de Blasio, very few schools on the chopping block have managed to escape.

Last year, the Panel for Educational Policy — an oversight board where the majority of members are appointed by the mayor — signed off on all of the city’s proposed closures. Even when parents at J.H.S 145 in the Bronx mounted a campaign to keep the middle school open, only five of the 13 panel members voted against its closure.

The city’s plan to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 follows a yearslong, grassroots effort to save it.

Today, one of the leaders of that campaign is an unlikely champion: a parent named Queen Makkada, who called for the school’s closure in 2010 when her two children went there. At one point, her daughter was attacked by a group of boys, and students were known to roam the hallways unsupervised.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Queen Makkada says P.S./M.S. 42 has struggled in the past, but is now showing improvement.

“We literally had first graders cutting class,” Makkada said. A joint city-state report from 2011 said teachers there “demanded little” from students and parents complained about unchecked bullying among students.
Makkada says things began to turn around when the current principal, Patricia Finn, took over about seven years ago. Finn did not respond to a request for comment.

The principal smoothed over relations with teachers, who have filed far fewer grievances under her than the previous administration, according to their union. And she forged relationships with skeptical parents, Makkada said. Last year, 90 percent of parents who responded to a school survey said the principal works to build community.

“All the stakeholders had to come together and change it,” Makkada said. “These parents went through the process to improve a failing school.”

At the same time that parents were getting more involved, the school facilities were getting an upgrade. In 2011, a gleaming new addition was built onto the building, and there are plans for a new $7 million playground, according to the city councilman.

The Renewal program, which launched in 2014, marked a new wave of investment in P.S./M.S 42. A community-based nonprofit — Family Health International, which goes by FHI 360 — brought much-needed mental health supports for students, including one-on-one counseling. The school day was extended by an hour. And the school has launched several initiatives aimed at improving school culture, including training students to help resolve conflicts among their peers, parents said.

Since 2014, the school has received improved “quality review” ratings from official observers, and its test scores have ticked upwards. In fact, elementary students at P.S./M.S. 42 earned higher scores on the state English and math tests last year than the average among Renewal schools that the city is keeping open. Its middle-school students perform just below that average.

And enrollment, a key factor that chancellor Fariña says the education department considers when recommending closures, grew by dozens of students the first few years of the program. This past year, its population declined to just over 660 students — but that’s still higher than before becoming a Renewal school.

Given the progress, parents don’t understand why their school is targeted for closure.

“This is ripping everything apart,” said Morgan, the parent-association president.

But despite the recent improvements, the majority of the school’s students still are far behind where they should be.

Only 17 percent of elementary students and 14 percent of middle schoolers passed last year’s state English tests — compared with 40-41 percent of students citywide. In math, 14 percent of elementary students and 6 percent of middle schoolers passed the tests, compared with 42 percent and 33 percent citywide.

Meanwhile, a stubbornly high share of students are chronically absent, despite a major push by the city to boost attendance at Renewal schools. More than 45 percent of P.S./M.S. 42 students miss 10 percent or more of the school year, compared to 36 percent among all Renewal schools and about 26 percent among all city schools, according to the education department.

“This decision to propose a school closure was made based on a careful assessment of the school community as a whole,” Aciman, the department spokesman, said in a statement. He added that community engagement is an important part of proposed closures, and said officials will respond to parents’ questions and concerns.

Officials will hold a public hearing at the school on Jan. 10, before the Panel for Educational Policy votes Feb. 28 on whether to approve the city’s closure plans.

Among the P.S./M.S. 42 parents who will ask the panel to spare the school is Willard Price.

He said teachers have given his son, William, extra help in math and handwriting, and principal Finn has invited him to eat lunch in her office when he felt overwhelmed by the cafeteria. Now, William earns high marks on his report cards and would like to remain at P.S./M.S. 42 for middle school, his father said.

“I think that’s messed up, trying to close the school,” William said. “This school is the only school I ever liked.”

ASD CLOSURE

Highest-performing state-run high school to close due to ‘sustainability challenges’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat Tennessee
GRAD Academy rented and maintained the building that formerly housed  South Side High School, originally built for 2,000 students and shuttered in 2015 by Shelby County Schools.

For the third time, a state-run school will shutter in Memphis.

Officials with GRAD Academy announced Monday that they will close their South Memphis high school at the end of this school year. It is the only Memphis school run by Project GRAD USA, a charter organization based in Houston, as a part of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

“This decision was made by Project GRAD USA’s board based on the sustainability challenges Memphis GRAD Academy has faced,” said Daryl Ogden, the charter organization’s CEO, in a statement. “The decision was not based on any performance issues.”

The announcement comes on the heels of major changes to the state’s turnaround district and signals the end of its highest-performing high school. GRAD Academy has the greatest percentage of ASD high students scoring on grade level, according to state data from 2017.  

But the high school has lagged in enrollment. About 535 students were enrolled during the 2016-17 school year compared to 468 at the start of the 2017-18 year, a drop of about 13 percent.  

Ogden said students and parents were informed about the upcoming closure on Monday morning. He added that students will receive support through meetings and information sessions as they prepare to find a new school.

Kathleen Airhart, the ASD’s interim superintendent, said the state-run district will support those efforts and help teachers there find new positions.

“We have appreciated GRAD Academy’s work to serve additional high school students and are now focused on ensuring those same students can transition seamlessly this summer into their next school or postsecondary institution,” said Airhart. “We want to create as much stability as possible so students’ progress continues over the course of this semester and into the future.”

Memphis GRAD Academy opened in 2013 as a “new start” school under the state-run district, meaning that it started from scratch and was not an existing low-performing school taken from the local district with the charge of turning it around.

KIPP Memphis University Middle School, also a new start in south Memphis under the Achievement School District, shuttered last May. Klondike Preparatory Academy Elementary shut down last spring after its operator, Gestalt Community Schools, pulled out of the ASD completely. Now, state legislation passed in 2017 prohibits the Achievement School District from creating new start schools. 

Both KIPP and Gestalt cited lagging enrollment as a challenge to long-term sustainability. Ogden did not immediately respond to questions on whether enrollment was the key issue behind the decision to close GRAD Academy.

The Achievement School District was established by the state in 2012 with the goal of vaulting the state’s 5 percent of lowest-achieving schools to the top 25 percent within five years, but test scores and research have shown it’s fallen short of that initial goal. After the closure of GRAD Academy, the state-run district will run 31 schools in Memphis and Nashville.

Reporter Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.