As Indianapolis Public Schools pushes to implement a district-wide plan to shift middle grades from high schools to elementary schools, opposition is brewing at one of the first schools facing change.
The school board is considering a proposal to move and expand School 70’s K-5 arts magnet program in northern Indianapolis. If the plan passes, the program would shift to the Key Learning Community School building just west of downtown and begin serving students up to eighth grade next fall.
But some parents said tonight they worried the change would be bad for younger students. They say that older children might be too mature and their younger peers could be victims of intimidation or worse.
“I don’t want to put my kids into a school that has kids older than them,” said Michelle Mendoza, who has three children at School 70. “The other kids are going to be bigger, and they’re going to be bullied.”
Mendoza said that her children had faced bullying from other students in the past. School staff handled the situation well, she said. But she is concerned that with older students in the building, it could be worse.
The move to add grades to the arts magnet is one of the first steps to fulfill a desire by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the school board to move early grades out of high school buildings.
Seven IPS high schools now begin in sixth or seventh grades. Middle school students are among the lowest performing in the district. And at many high schools where test scores are improving for students in later grades, middle schoolers still lag.
Under the board plan, the arts magnet program at Broad Ripple High School would drop middle school grades. The district will hold a meeting to discuss changes at Broad Ripple Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Middle school students in elementary buildings have better outcomes, district officials believe.
“We’ve just seen great outcomes keeping the student in the same building K through eight, academically,” said IPS academic improvement officer Jesse Pratt. “There are better students academically, socially, emotionally and we want to take care of the whole child at K through eight.”
But Mendoza is not only parent worried about moving middle schoolers into the arts magnet.
“I’ve taken my child out of a K through eight school because there were issues,” said Regina Cole, whose daughter is in fourth grade at School 70. “That’s just as bad as sixth through 12. So we need to figure out another proposal.”
School 70 principal Nathan Tuttle said that middle school age students would have little interaction with elementary schoolers if the school moves to a new location and adds grades.
Key’s school building is designed to house students in across grades. The K-12 program at the school will shut down next spring to make way for the arts magnet.
“Logistically speaking, the building is set up to keep elementary separate from middle school,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle worked at another K-8 elementary school before joining School 70, so the expansion would not be new territory, he said.
“Just because you have middle school students doesn’t mean they’re going to be unruly,” he said. “It also depends on the climate and culture of the building that you create.”
It would also offer advantages for the arts magnet, he said, including additional staff and resources for the school. Students will be able to attend the same school for nine years, without having to transition to a new building for middle school.
Not all parents are worried about the adding grades to the program.
Laura Powell said that she’s happy to see the program expand, but wishes it would stay put at School 70.
“Instead of making the move to put everybody together, why not stay where we are?” she said.
If the plan goes forward, a new Center for Inquiry magnet school would be located in the former School 70 building. It will also be K-8. The board will vote on the proposal Nov. 9.