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.


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.