The Difficult Choice: Indianapolis Public Schools to Close High Schools to Ensure a Sustainable Future for the District

Leadership is not easy. Often times, it is lonely at the top. You seek input and feedback, but ultimately you have to make tough decisions. You have to make tough decisions that will not make everyone happy. The decisions you make will make someone upset and someone will disagree. Indianapolis Public Schools Board and Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee made a tough decision last week when they announced their plan to eliminate four high school locations within their district. This was not a decision they sprung on the community. They hinted for months they were discussing this possibility and that possibility became a reality for four sets of schools, parents, students, alumni, and a community.

Superintendent Ferebee and the IPS board is making the correct decision to close Broad Ripple and eventually John Marshall and converting Northwest and Arlington into middle schools. I am not a graduate of any of those IPS schools, so I cannot relate to the difficult reality of hearing about my alma mater closing; however, there is a certain reality that needs to be faced and understood. IPS has seen a decline in enrollment for some years. They have been specifically losing high school students for years. Many of the schools are operating at less than 30% capacity. Specifically, the schools they are deciding to close are costing the district too much money.  It is simply a numbers game people do not want to face, but it is the harsh reality.

I spoke with an alum of Broad Ripple High School and she told me, “It hurts to hear my school is closing. I loved my time at Broad Ripple and closing the building doesn’t erase those memories. The district had to make a tough decision and consider the district as a whole. I do hope IPS keeps the Board Ripple name alive and they don’t just erase it from the memories.”

It is not a matter of erasing the Broad Ripple Rockets or the John Marshall Patriots name from the IPS history books. It’s about ensuring IPS can be around for future generations. It is about ensuring they can provide the best education possible for the students they have now and the students of the future. It is simply about having a sustainable future.

In the midst of the outrage to close two schools and convert two others to middle schools, the community should celebrate IPS approach to put students at the center. No longer will a student’s zip code dictate the high school they have to attend. In this “New High School Experience,” students can choose the high school they want to attend based on their career interest. The approach to making the remaining high school's career academies will lead towards a focus on college and careers and give IPS graduates viable opportunities for their future. The plan will allow 100% of graduating students to have the opportunity to enroll in a two-year or four-year college, enlist in the military, or find employment making a livable wage.

You cannot have competitive salaries and innovative programs while paying millions of dollars on buildings that are not being properly used. The district is putting students first! How can anyone disagree with that? Once the dust settles and the emotions have subsided, I believe the community will embrace this new future.

It was time for a change. With change comes the loss of things, but you ultimately gain so much more.

For more information about IPS plans for reinventing IPS high schools click here.

Comment

David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Indiana Releases First Draft of ESSA Plan

Back in May, I traveled to Chicago and saw Hamilton: An American Musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton.  During act two, Hamilton’s adversary Aaron Burr was upset because he was excluded from “the room where it happens.”  He wanted to be involved in the important decisions, the policy decisions.  Knowing my 18 month Teach Plus Policy Fellowship was coming to an end on June 23rd and after reflecting upon my fellow education blogger David McGuire’s piece “The Silent Black Voice in Education,” I wanted to make sure I took advantage of any opportunity to be in the room where it happens, so I put my name on a list to be part of one of Indiana’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) working groups.  I was excited to later learn I was selected as a member of one of the technical working groups.

ESSA is the reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Each state is tasked with submitting a plan to the U.S. Department of Education detailing how ESSA requirements will be implemented in its state.  Before Indiana’s plan was drafted, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) took measures to ensure voices from around the state were heard.  Community meetings were held across the state in each of Indiana’s congressional districts.  The IDOE created five technical working groups:  accountability, assessment, educator effectiveness, school improvement, and student supports.  I was part of the student supports group.  In May and June, the groups made recommendations for the plan and in July the groups will have the opportunity to read through the section they worked on and provide comments.

On Friday, June 30th, the IDOE released its first draft of the state’s ESSA plan.  In addition to the working groups, the public also has the opportunity to provide feedback.  After feedback is considered, the plan will be submitted to Governor Holcomb for review.  The IDOE plans to submit the final version to the U.S. Department of Education on September 18, 2017.

Towards the end of the song, “The Room Where It Happens” Alexander Hamilton tells Burr:

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game

But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game

Oh, you get love for it, you get hate for it

You get nothing if you

Wait for it, wait for it, wait

I definitely have skin in the game; I’m a parent and an educator.  If you are part of our community, you have skin in the game because the plan implemented under ESSA will shape our community’s children, our future leaders.  A few have asked, “Why do you even want to get involved?  It won’t matter.”  One key point I learned during my policy fellowship is when policy is shaped and decisions are made, it takes collaboration and compromise and you won’t get everything you want.  If you don’t participate or “play in the game,” you won’t be able to move the needle.  You won’t be able to make any change.

Don’t just wait around and see what happens.  If you would like to get involved, click here to read and comment on Indiana’s ESSA plan draft.  Comments will be accepted until July 21st.  

What, to a Slave Descendant, is your 4th of July?

Without fail, when certain U.S. federal holidays come around each year, the debate begins about whether or not the holiday should be celebrated especially by minorities.  Franchesca Ramsey, host of MTV Decoded, details in two videos, “Everything You Know about Thanksgiving is Wrong” and “Columbus was a Genocidal Rapist” some of the reasons we should think about what we are truly celebrating.  This debate isn’t new.  On July 5, 1852 Frederick Douglass delivered a speech referred to as either “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” or “What, to a Slave, is Your 4th of July?” in Corinthian Hall in Rochester N.Y.

 

At the end of June before Independence Day, I find myself rereading the unabridged (not shortened) version of Douglass’ speech and I reflect upon his words.  He begins his speech praising Americans for their courage to break free from the British and gain their independence, but reminds them, “I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness.”  Today, I think about this weakness.  Some Americans choose to overlook the injustices happening today because they are not being affected and are not suffering.  Last year, I had a poem published in Words Dance reflecting those thoughts:

Progress

emancipation

civil rights

affirmative action

Obama

 

generational

progress

is a blindfold

to mask

the dead bodies

 

Yes, we are not shackled and picking cotton, but as Douglass stated in his speech way back in 1852, “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine” is still relevant today because stripes are still coming down on black bodies and we are still dying daily.

 

What, to this slave descendant, is your 4th of July?  It is a day to spend with my family.  Because the 4th of July is a federal holiday, it is one of the few times we all can gather together.  My twin sons, who are now six, have learned all of our people didn’t gain freedom from slavery until the slaves in Texas were informed on June 19, 1865 slavery had ended.  This was almost two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  For the last few years, I have taken them to a Juneteenth celebration which celebrates our freedom and the date when the slaves in Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation.  I want them to know our story which is weaved into all aspects of our American history.  Not only do I want my children to know, I also want my students to know what our plight was even if it means being reported.  

 

When I was teaching 8th grade middle school English, our department decided we would teach our English standards using either a historical text or a historical fiction text.  Everyone in my department decided to teach Anne Frank:  The Diary of a Young Girl.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking this text.  Instead, I decided to use the historical fiction text Chains, part of The Seeds of America trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  My students had learned about the American Revolution in history class which meant they had background knowledge I didn’t have to teach.  This story followed Isabel, a slave, who was trying to figure out which side she should support during the American Revolution in hopes she would gain her freedom.  Spoiler alert:  Neither side cared about her freedom.  My classes were majority minority and I believed this was a good text to use.  Although I was reported for not using the same text as my colleagues, I was still allowed to use this novel.

 

The 4th of July is a time to enjoy my family.  My parents were married on July 6, 1985 so we always celebrate their wedding anniversary; my parents will be married for 32 years this year and that’s remarkable.   That’s my focus - love and the strength of my family.  It is also a time to reflect on where we were as a people and how far we have to go for all of us to truly enjoy freedom.  No, I do not believe we should condemn minorities for celebrating this holiday, but they need to be well informed about our history and not deceived about the injustices we are still fighting today.

 

What to the Black Man is 4th of July in 2017?

 
It has been 240 years since the Declarations of Independence was signed and we still haven’t reached the status of those words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
 
Like many kids growing up, I loved the 4th of July. I loved Independence Day. It was a time for family and barbecue. Most importantly for a child, it was a time for fireworks. I loved the fireworks show as a child. The red white and blue and large firework displays were the best part of the day. That was when I was a child. Now I am a man. I am a black man. I am a black man responsible for molding and educating the future. My love for Independence Day has diminished. It's diminished because what exact independence am I celebrating as a black man? 
 
In one of his most famous speeches, Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” The speech is from his famous address, The Meaning of July 4th to the Negro. At the time of the speech, it was July 5, 1852. It was ironic because at that time blacks were still slaves. Lincoln does not announce the Emancipation Proclamation for another 11 years. 
 
By no way do my words come from a place that has black people still enslaved in America. The reason why Douglass’s questions still are unanswered today is because for blacks especially black men we still are still living through institutionalized racism. This is the same institutional racism that was created by slavery some 150 years ago. 
 
 
As a black man living in America, I have to simply ask the question, What to the Black Man is 4th of July in 2017? It is a fair question. Yes, there are things to celebrate like the fact that we aren’t slaves anymore. The fact that I lived to see a black man served as President of the United States. Despite those things what real freedom do I celebrate? I mean why celebrate 4th of July. Blacks weren’t even free when the Declaration of Independence was signed back in 1776. Comedian Chris Rock summed up his feelings on Independence Day back in 2012 with this tweet  “Happy white people independence day the slaves weren’t free, but I’m sure they enjoyed the fireworks.” All humor aside Chris Rock was right. Mostly many blacks do not realize our Independence Day as passed. Our actual Independence should have been celebrated on June 19th, with Juneteenth. That was our time for barbecue, parades, and fireworks. 
 
I am older. I have better conscious of what is going on. James Baldwin said it best, “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” I am enraged because here we are celebrating Independence Day when unarmed black men are being gunned down by the police and or killed in cold blood and no there is no justice. Those black men killed are no different than me. I am them, and they are me. So I can’t forget their names: Oscar Grant, Dontre Hamilton, Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice. Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and Philando Castile. The list could go on and on. You think their families would celebrate Independence Day? 
 
Then there is Colin Kaepernick, who is still unemployed by the NFL. Why is he unemployed? He is unemployed because he chose to stand for something. He took a stand for thus names mentioned above. Now he is blackballed by the NFL and can't get on a team. They say because it would cause an uproar by the fan base. What fans base the white fan base of those NFL teams?
 
I will not always dwell on the bad this country has done to us. I do have a lot to celebrate as a black man. I will always celebrate those accomplishments. I celebrate the Black Founding Fathers, Frederick, Martin, Malcolm, Thurgood, and Barack. I celebrate them every day. I just rather not celebrate them July 4th.
 
Does that make me any less American?

Comment

David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Weekend Links (7/1/2017)

Comment

Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

School Issues Report Card without Grades after Teacher Quits

When I’m in the community or around family, people tend to ask me education questions.  I’m asked about education topics in the news or my thoughts about what is happening inside our local schools.  Earlier this week, I received an inquiry on my Facebook wall from a parent of an IPS third grader.

“I have a question about grades when the teacher leaves before the end of the school year.  My son’s report card came yesterday and there were no grades for his homeroom, only grades for specials  (I assume because his teacher didn’t turn in grades)  but he has honor roll and a 3.5 GPA.  How will this (not having a grade for his main courses) affect him or will it?”

My first response was to click the angry emotion on the post because I did not understand why this happened.  There should be someone responsible for verifying final grades was ready and entered before report cards were printed and sent home.

Later, the parent shared a copy of the report card.  I noticed not only was her child’s fourth quarter grades missing, but also the first quarter grades were missing.  Because of this, I wrongly assumed the teacher arrived after the start of the school year.  The parent then informed me the teacher was there since the beginning of the school year but left in March after the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination (IREAD-3) assessment.  After the first quarter, the school changed how they did report cards and this is why the first quarter grades were also missing on the final report card.  Why would a school make this change after the school year began?

To give me more perspective, the parent shared more information with me.  She attended this same elementary school as a child.  The principal that was at the school when she was in fifth grade was the same principal at the school up until two school years ago.  She heard her son’s teacher, who he also had in first grade, left for another job that was less stressful, fewer hours, and had better pay.  Although she was told that the substitute teacher replacement was great, she only had one contact with the substitute when she picked her child up from school one day.

As a parent, you have the right to contact your child’s school when you have concerns and this is what I advised her to do.  After contacting the principal about the missing grades, the principal did a mass phone call to the parents to inform them new report cards would be issued in about a week.  Knowing the teacher was absent during the fourth quarter and the school failed to send home grades when the report card was originally sent makes me wonder if there are even grades available to put on the report cards when they are mailed again.  If there are not grades, how will the school determine what grades to put on the report card?

At the end of the day, this parent is concerned about what her child learned at the end of the school year after the teacher quit.  In the research study, “How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement,” researchers found, “teacher turnover has a significant and negative impact on student achievement in both math and English/language arts.”

With missing fourth quarter grades, no explanation of why the grades were missing, and no communication about her child’s progress during the fourth quarter from the substitute teacher, this parent is left guessing if the grades that will be provided later has any value and if her child will be ready for the fourth grade.  She is considering if it would it be in her child’s best interest to transfer him to Beech Grove schools.

I wonder what the school could have done differently to support the teacher so the teacher would stay at least through the end of the school year.  All we can hope is the school uses this as a learning experience, so this will not happen again or more parents might consider looking for another school to educate their children.

 

A Mothers Tears

Before it was a rally cry for a week of protest and demonstration, before it was a used by politicians as a platform to win elections, before it was the mission statement for non-profits to make money, long before it was a hashtag on any social media - long before social media, my parents, who were and still are hardworking individuals made a conscious decision back in the early 90s to send their first born child to a school that was not the neighborhood school because they felt the neighborhood school could not serve the needs of their child and because they wanted me to have a better opportunity. My parents who were both products of the IPS school system growing up did not like the direction the district was heading and simply felt their son would have a better opportunity going to a township school.

My parents who at the time and even now if you asked them the question, “What is school choice?” probably could not answer it. They definitely wouldn’t say their belief in school choice was the reason they sent their child to a school outside of their boundary district. I remember the first house we lived in 3215 Halifax. I have fond memories from my time on Halifax including playing sports in the backyard with my dad. The memory I do not have is riding the school bus with the other kids in the neighborhood. I woke up earlier than usual every morning because my parents would drop me off at my grandmother’s house across town in Section 3 of Mayfield Greens so I could attend Eastbrook Elementary in Pike Township.

This decision was fueled by a drive my parents took while looking for my school near the house they had just bought. While purchasing the house, my parents were told the school of the neighborhood was in Wayne Township. The realtor was mistaken. One side of the neighborhood was Wayne the other side, which was where our house stood, was IPS. After hearing this news, my parents took a drive to see the school their first born son would attend. The school, which at the time was under construction and was located next to a home known by many as a place where people gambled, didn’t make my mother feel comfortable. My mom told me she cried many nights thinking about her first born attending that school and eventually those tears pushed her to make a decision that was risky, but one that she felt was the right decision.

I did not grow up wealthy and my parents had to make a significant sacrifice. Not just my parents, but my grandmother who essentially had to wake up early to watch me when my parents dropped me off in the morning and get me on the school bus. She also had to watch me when I got off the school bus until my parents got off work. At this time you were not allowed to attend a school where you didn’t live in the neighborhood. My parents had to use my grandmother’s address and they had to tell the school I lived with my grandmother. We lived this lie from 1st grade to 5th grade so I could stay at this school. Eventually, we moved into Pike Township when I went to middle school.  I continued attending Pike schools and could catch the bus from my house.

I look back on that decision my parents made some 20 years ago and appreciate even more their dedication and their willingness to do that. I owe them so much because my parents believing I would perform better in a township school turned out to be the right decision. One of the major factors for me being where I am today was the decision my parents made to send me to Eastbrook Elementary in first grade and not IPS school 107 or 69.

Twenty-two years later I do not have any kids of my own, but I am a school leader an advocate for school choice and parents being given a chance to give their child a chance and a brighter future. School choice for my parents was their decision to do what they felt was best for their child at the time. They did whatever it took to ensure I attended the school they felt most comfortable sending me to. Hopefully, parents won't have to lie their way into sending their child to a better school and won’t have to settle for a zip code to dictate where their child should go to school.

 

Comment

David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

IPS to Close Broad Ripple and John Marshall; Convert Arlington and Northwest to Middle Schools

Arlington will operate exclusively as Middle School via Indianapolis Public Schools

Arlington will operate exclusively as Middle School via Indianapolis Public Schools

By Andrew Pillow

After months of speculation, Indianapolis Public Schools has finally released their school closure plans. IPS plans to completely close two schools, and convert two others into middle schools. The plan was designed to help IPS save money by closing or re-purposing under utilized schools and facilities.

The highlights of Indianapolis Public School’s consolidation plan:

  1. Close and sell Broad Ripple and John Marshall
  2. Convert Arlington and Northwest into middle schools
  3. Continue to operate Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, George Washington and Shortridge as high schools

In addition to closing and re-purposing schools, IPS also plans to sell or lease two of its administration buildings.

The changes would go in to effect during the 2018 school year and is expected to save the district around $7 million per year. Additionally, school officials believe selling the Broad Ripple building in particular, could generate around 6 to 8 million dollars given its proximity to an entertainment district.

IPS has also proposed “career themed academies” for the remaining high schools.

Read the full IPS plan here.

Comment

Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Parents, Teachers Aren’t Miracle Workers; Your Child Needs to Be Present to Learn


Indianapolis is a city with various school choice options.  I could live in Pike Township, but choose to send my children to a Washington Township school.  I could live within the boundaries of IPS, but choose to send my children to another school within the district instead of my neighborhood boundary school.  I could live within the boundaries of Beech Grove, but choose to send my children to a charter school.  With 11 school districts within Indianapolis and charter school options, parents have many school choices, but some parents who decide to transfer their children to another school don’t do their part to ensure their children can be successful at the out of boundary school.  

Although some charter schools in Indiana provide busing, others do not, and if you are transferring your children to another school district, you have to provide your own transportation.  Choosing to send your children to a school you feel is a better fit is not the best choice if you will not get your children to school on time or if your children are habitually late to school.  For some reason, these parents believe that if their children are there at school for part of the school day or part of the school week, the teacher can work miracles and ensure your children achieve at the same level as other children with good attendance.  

For this reason, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation in Senate Enrolled Act 108 - Education Matters, to help schools who have accepted transfer students.  Under this legislation, schools can end a student’s transfer enrollment due to chronic absences.  When I see transfer students being dropped off at my school right before lunch time on a regular basis, there is no one else to blame but the parents. These children have missed important instruction during the day.  Then some of these parents have the audacity to chew out the teacher about why their children are not on grade level.  Teachers, schools, and districts are held accountable for each child’s success, and parents should also be held accountable.  This has to be a partnership and if parents won’t do their part, they should not come pointing fingers at us.