School Closings

Closing Indianapolis high schools? Parents and alumni plead ‘slow down’

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Many Indianapolis Public Schools parents and alumni were frustrated with the districts proposal to close three high schools.

An effort to ease tensions fell flat at Indianapolis Public Schools’ first public meeting about its plan to close three high schools.

“I think that we can all agree that under our new leadership team, with Dr. (Lewis) Ferebee at the helm, the district has actually made great strides both academically, operationally and financially,” said Denise Herd, the communications consultant brought in to moderate.

“Wouldn’t you all agree?” she said.

“No!” the crowded audience responded in near unison.

That rebuke set the tone for the meeting Wednesday night, where a crowd of about 150 people packed into a room at the Glendale Library to discuss a proposal to close three high schools in the district. IPS educators, parents, alumni and students spoke about frustration with the school closing process, the current administration and charter schools that draw students from the district.

The conversation was highly structured, with attendees divided into several groups to discuss the proposal. District staff, including Ferebee, and school board members moved among the groups, answering questions and listening in on conversations. But the crowd was so lively in its discussion, it was a struggle to hear people over the din of the packed room.

When group leaders shared their thoughts with the full audience after nearly an hour of conversation, the tone was frustrated. Most of the groups agreed that the process was moving too fast and didn’t include enough community input.

“School closings are huge in our community, and so what we need to do is make sure that we have the community involved,” said Carrie Harris of the Crispus Attucks High School Alumni Association. “Let’s not rush this thing.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Carrie Harris, right, was one of several Indianapolis Public Schools alumni who criticized the district proposal to close three high schools.

The meeting was the first of four the district plans on holding before the administration recommends in June which schools to close. The board is expected to vote on the proposal in September, with schools likely closing in 2018-2019. If the board goes forward with the plan to close three schools, the district would educate just over 5,000 students in the four remaining high schools — a shift that officials project would save the district more than $4 million per year.

Curtis Baker, a Broad Ripple High School graduate and parent, said that he understands the district needs to close schools because of low enrollment, but he wants to know how the money it saves would be used to improve education for students in the high schools that remain open.

“I think we’re kind of rushing this,” he said. “Maybe we’re bleeding money out, and I’m sure we are. But this is affecting a lot of people.”

Many of the audience members said they had deep loyalty to the IPS high schools they and their family attended. Cynnie Halsmer graduated from Broad Ripple High School, along with her mother and two sons. Her two daughters are currently enrolled at the school.

“Slow down,” she said. “Don’t do this to people.”

The district will hold three more community meeting before the administration recommends which high schools to close.

6-8 p.m. May 1
Ivy Tech Culinary Center
2820 N. Meridian Street

6-8 p.m. May 11
Zion Hope Baptist Church
5950 E 46th Street

6-8 p.m. May 15
Haughville Library
2121 W. Michigan St.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Another chance

A Brooklyn school on the chopping block will get one more chance to improve

PHOTO: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio testified in Albany on Monday.

A low-performing Brooklyn high school slated for closure is getting a new lease on life.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city would give Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School a one-year reprieve, citing community pressure.

The small high school in the Brownsville neighborhood was among 14 schools that education department officials recently moved to close after this academic year. Along with eight other schools on the city’s chopping block, Brooklyn Collegiate is part of the mayor’s Renewal program, which attempts to turn around struggling schools by investing extra resources in them and providing additional learning time. Officials also plan to combine another five Renewal schools that enroll very few students.

De Blasio was asked about the planned closure of Brooklyn Collegiate during a state legislative hearing Monday, where Sen. Roxanne J. Persaud noted students don’t have many options in the Brownsville and Ocean Hill area.

In response, de Blasio said city officials decided to put the closure on “pause” after meeting with concerned community members.

“Communities raised excellent points that we want to honor by adding a year and adding some additional investments, and seeing if we can get it to be sustainable on a long-term basis,” he said.

Parents and elected officials have also rallied to save other schools that landed on the city’s closure list, arguing that they were not given enough time to make improvements. The city has not announced any other changes to its closure or merger plans that have sparked a backlash.

Education department spokesman Michael Aciman said that Brooklyn Collegiate will receive coaching for teachers in Advanced Placement courses and “heightened supervision and guidance” from the local superintendent and district support offices.

Last year, only 63 percent of its students graduated — far below the citywide average of 74 percent, but higher than several other Renewal high schools that are not slated for closure. Over the last five years, its enrollment has steadily declined to just over 300 students, and 44 percent of students were chronically absent last year — meaning they missed 10 percent or more of the school year.