May 19, 2017

Over the last several weeks, Indianapolis Public Schools has held five community meetings to discuss a recommendation by the IPS Facilities Utilization Taskforce to close some high schools.

Taskforce members, school commissioners and district leaders have traveled across Indianapolis sharing the details of the report and gathering valuable feedback.

It all wrapped up with the last community meeting Thursday, May 18, at the Garfield Park Burrello Family Center on Indy’s south side. Most of the meetings, which started the last week of April, have had capacity crowds, with Zion Hope Baptist Church hosting the largest crowd of more than 240 in attendance.

Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee emphasized that IPS high schools are already on the right track, pointing out:

We have more students graduating on time for career and college than we’ve ever had.In our graduation class of 2016, scholarship dollars increased by more than 60 percent (compared to the 2015 class).The number of high school students learning professional certifications, who have the opportunity to go into the workplace after high school, has increased by 18 percent.
“But, we know we need to do more. To do that, we need to create the best high school experience for our students,” said Dr. Ferebee. “But, we can’t do that with our high schools two-thirds empty.”

Data collected by the Taskforce shows IPS lost 20,000 high school students during the last 50 years, going from 26,000 to 5,300. But the district is only operating one less high school building than it did at peak enrollment. The goals of the community meetings were to generate awareness, understanding and knowledge.

Taskforce members, school commissioners and IPS Leadership Team members have attended every meeting, listened in on the small group table chats and personally addressed questions and concerns face-to-face. As a result of IPS’ direct, personal approach, many in attendance gained a new understanding of why IPS has to close high schools. With this knowledge came
empowerment to help create solutions. Many parents and students called for more theater and AP college credit programs, forensic science classes, and foreign languages, as well as home economics and other programs to keep students engaged.

Do we need to close schools?” asked one audience member.  “Absolutely! You can’t offer the programs the kids need. There’s not enough kids for the classes. You’ve gotta consolidate.  There’s no question about that. Which one? I’m not about to touch that one.” “This is needed because of what we’ve seen in the numbers. We must look at the numbers. We think consolidation is needed,” said Rondel Jackson, an audience member. “Choices are necessary, vocational training is necessary, location is key.”
“We would like to see increased funds put into trade programs where they could learn more skills to benefit their future. We’d also like to see more parent programs to give them the skills they need,” said another audience member.

The district has committed to re-investing the $4 million it will save annually from closing
schools. IPS intends to put that money back into the classroom to enhance student learning experiences and improve teacher support.
“We could talk financials for some time, but most importantly, we want to ensure when students graduate and walk across that stage at an IPS high school that the handshake they receive means they’ll have success in college and career. To do
that, we need to enhance academics,” said Dr. Ferebee. It’s important to point out that no existing choice programs will be eliminated. They will be relocated to schools that remain open. In fact, the district plans to expand its high school choice programs. Next week, at the May School Board Action Session, the district will present enhancements to the Academy Program
for high schools, which include more career and technical education offerings.

It’s news that excites parents already sold on IPS choice offerings. “We moved from Washington Township to Attucks because of the programs there,” said audience member Jana Montgomery. “When my daughter graduates from there, she plans to go to college and become a biomedical engineer.”

Dr. Ferebee also emphasized that the district has operated in good faith, not only enhancing academics but making investments in teacher compensation while operating at a $20 million deficit. “After the five-year freeze in teacher salaries and now receiving $1,000 less per pupil from the state, we’ve invested over $20 million in compensation,” said Dr. Ferebee. “To continue on that path and take care of our employees and our students, we have to take every cost-saving measure possible.”

The process of closing high schools continues in June. That’s when the administration will gather all of the feedback and make recommendations on which schools to close, as well as provide a reuse plan for those buildings and academic programming at the schools that remain open. Dr. Ferebee will announce those decisions on June 29. 

After schools are named, the Board of School Commissioners will hold their regularly scheduled meetings at each high school
recommended for closure to gather more public comment. The board will vote on September 28. The schools will close at the end of the 2017-18 school year.