The Quandary of IPS School Closures

When tough decisions must be made for our children, I understand why choice can be perceived as a gift and as a curse.  The challenge of school choice, as our education environment continues to evolve, lies in the outcomes when it leads to a quasi-exodus.  Such is the quandary that faces IPS as the district grapples with the seemingly no-win school closure recommendations that have further divided its traditionalists and reformers.

With last week’s recommendations to eliminate Arlington, Broad Ripple and Northwest High Schools as high school campuses, three historic community pillars, our community is collectively struggling to come to terms with the difficult  dilemma IPS must balance with declining enrollment and underutilized buildings which, frankly, have struggled to meet the academic outcomes necessary to ensure our children are afforded the tools to compete, despite overall district gains.

Those that have long dismissed the district’s efforts as part of a grand conspiracy of decentralization and hollowing out also point singularly to charters and vouchers for a trend that in fact began long before the introduction of these options.  Whatever the reasons, choice by flight, mobility or school quality, the reality remains with just over 28,000 students, operating so undersubscribed without initiating change would be malpractice.

For reformers, in this era of collective partnership, there is the sense that while no doubt one of several difficult decisions the district has and will continue to make as it evolves, the restructuring is a necessary step toward concentrated, higher quality district high schools.  Any projected savings, coupled with the prospect of affording students the opportunity to choose from “career academies” bears the potential to bode well for the district as it becomes nimbler to evolve with an ever-evolving educational landscape.

Still, the reality of these closures and any potential negative impact on their surrounding communities makes the visceral, downright adversarial response to the decision among some entirely understandable. To the district’s credit, the decision to reconstitute Arlington and Northwest as middle schools allow the campuses to remain open.  Early signs of suitors for Broad Ripple and other sites demonstrate commitment to communities feeling abandoned. Just being a week in, you’ll forgive those that don’t share that position.

Yes, the 2018-2019 school year will feel a little different for our community. And yes, the change represents the next phase in an educational environment that is banking on higher quality through greater choice, greater local control and partnerships that that continue to challenge the notion of “traditional” public education. No change of this magnitude is ever easy, nor should it be engaged without continued debate.  But for the students who will be directly impacted by the decisions made, let’s remain vigilant to ensure this evolution becomes the gift I firmly believe it can be.