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IPS recommends closing four schools due to declining enrollment

In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, the IPS superintendent said the recommended closures of Arlington High School, Broad Ripple High School, Northwest High School and John Marshall middle school are an effort to "right size" the district and save millions of dollars. It would also set up the remaining four high schools with programs better suited for students.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — It's a sobering reality at IPS high schools. Too many buildings and not enough students.

"Some of our high schools are two thirds empty and have an enrollment of 300-500 students," said IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee.

That is forcing school leaders to recommend the closure of three high schools before the 2018-2019 school year.

In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, the IPS superintendent said the recommended closures of Arlington High School, Broad Ripple High School, Northwest High School and John Marshall middle school are an effort to "right size" the district and save millions of dollars. It would also set up the remaining four high schools with programs better suited for students.

"By reinventing our high school curriculum and choices, we're better preparing our students for the workforce and also higher education," said Dr. Ferebee.

Dr. Ferebee wants IPS students to have the choice in where to attend high school.

“We need to ensure that our schools are more centrally located to accommodate choice throughout the district”

"What we've seen over the past couple years is we've had momentum with our graduation outcomes and our post-secondary success for our students is that students who participate in our career pathways, or our choice program, have much better outcomes," said Dr. Ferebee.

"For example, our students that take career technical education courses, graduate at a much higher rate, compared to than those students who don't. That rate is above 90%. So, we want to ensure that every student is making a choice about their high school experience and take greater ownership of what they want to become when they go onto their next phase of life," said Dr. Ferebee.

The schools on the closure list appear to be a victim of geography because they are located on the edges of the IPS district. Arsenal Tech, Washington, Crispus Attucks and Shortridge will remain open.

"We need to ensure that our schools are more centrally located to accommodate choice throughout the district. So, the schools that we're recommending for 2018-2019, are more centrally located in the district," said Dr. Ferebee.

The recommended closures should help shorten bus rides for IPS students to the four remaining high schools.

"We heard loudly and clearly from our stakeholders, families, students, travel time was really important. And access to the high schools that remain open is also important," said Dr. Ferebee.

"Now is the time to right size, we believe and create a new high school model. As part of that process, we are reinventing the high school experience for IPS," said Dr. Ferebee. "The decision about creating the high school of the future is centered around the best learning environment that we can create for our students that are in our high schools today."

The schools

Arlington Community HS

7th-12th grade

4825 N. Arlington Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46226

  • Website: http://www.myips.org/achs
  • School capacity: 2,175
  • Projected 2017-18 enrollment: 690
  • Note: John Marshall HS converting to middle school in 2017-18; high school students from there set to attend Arlington
  • Background: Arlington was among the last public high schools to open within IPS (opened in 1961)
  • Notable alums: Actress Vivica Fox

The recommendation calls for Arlington High School to be converted into a 500 seat middle school for 7th and 8th graders. Staff would move from Forest Manor to Arlington.

"Arlington is actually in another township. It's on the edge of Lawrence Township. It's at the eastern edge of our boundary. So, if we were to operate that high school, we would be taking students from the south or the west, and having to transport them all the way to the eastside where Arlington is," said Dr. Ferebee.

Northwest Community HS

7th-12th grade

5525 W. 34th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46224

  • Website: http://www.myips.org/nchs
  • School capacity: 2,125
  • Projected 2017-18 enrollment: 739
  • Notable alums: actress Kristina Wagner, Paul Spicer, defensive end for the Jacksonville Jaguars

A similar recommendation is being made to turn Northwest High School into a 600 seat middle school for 7th and 8th graders.

"We need more middle school space," said Dr. Ferebee. "It's on the western end of our district. So, again, we'd have the same challenges that we'd have at Arlington or John Marshall, which is on the edge of the far east," said Dr. Ferebee.

Broad Ripple Magnet HS for the Arts and Humanities

7th-12th grade

1115 Broad Ripple Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220

  • Website: http://www.myips.org/brmhs
  • School capacity: 2,400
  • Projected 2017-18 enrollment: 666
  • Notable alums: David Letterman, former Pacer George Hill, Former mayor Stephen Goldsmith, Marilyn Quayle, wife of former Vice-President Dan Quayle, actor Abraham Benrubi

Under the recommendation, Broad Ripple High School would be sold.

"Again, you have another geography challenge. It's far north - it's actually in Washington Township. What's interesting about Broad Ripple, is Broad Ripple is currently a choice program now and we're having to transport students all across the district to the far north of our boundary and most of the students who are choosing Broad Ripple don't live in the northern end of our boundary," said Dr. Ferebee.

John Marshall Community HS

7th-12th grade (converting to middle school in 2017-18)

10101 E. 38th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46235

  • Website: http://www.myips.org/jmchs
  • Background: Last school built in IPS district; Built in 1968 to accommodate rapid growth in the far east side of Indianapolis, John Marshall High School closed eighteen years later in 1986 due to declining enrollment. The facility reopened as a middle school in 1993, and in 2008 was converted to John Marshall Community High School

IPS leaders recommend to find a viable reuse for John Marshall which would become a middle school in 2017-2018. The recommendation also includes a proposal for Howe and Manual Schools.

"Howe and Manual are currently being operated by Charter Schools USA as they are part of the takeover. Those high schools, due to poor performance. If those schools were to return back to IPS for operation, we do not intend to operate those two buildings as high schools," said Dr. Ferebee.

“Now is the time to right size, we believe and create a new high school model”

IPS is also recommending the sale of the Facilities Maintenance Department and Forest Manor. IPS believes they could generate $13 million dollars by selling all the buildings set for closure.

"For example, we believe the Broad Ripple building is valued about $6-8 million dollars. The other $5 million from the facility management building, John Marshall, Forest Manor - combined about $13 million," said Dr. Ferebee.

Dr. Ferebee believes IPS has been transparent about the process of closing schools, citing 21 meetings with community, staff and a Facebook Live conversation.

Dr. Ferebee sees the upcoming school year as a transition for students and prepare them for the closures to come in 2018-2019.

"Ensuring that our students have a clear understanding of all the new options that we're offering. As part of our savings, we're reinvesting resources and dollars that would have gone to underutilized buildings that now can be utilized to offer more curriculum choices and more create pathways. Helping students understand the new options and helping them select based on their needs, desires and goals in terms of career and college," said Dr. Ferebee.

"We're adding options such as construction, engineering, and logistics. Job opportunities that in many cases, are gateway jobs that students that can get right out of high school. If an employer sees a need or the student has a need in earning their college degree, a lot of time an employer will pay for it. We see that as a means of giving students the opportunity to go to work right out of high school if they choose to do so. And, also build a career in high school. Many of our high school students work. We want to ensure that as they work, they have more opportunities for internships, apprenticeships. We want to build a career and create a gateway bridge to the jobs in Indianapolis and also regionally," said Dr. Ferebee.

IPS leaders plan to communicate with teachers and staff during the 2017 school year to inform them how they will be impacted by the recommended closures in 2018-2019.

"All of that hinges on what action the commissioners take. None of the current choice programs will be impacted by the closure. If they are in the building that will close, we will relocate that choice program to another facility. And, in many cases, that staff will follow that choice program. We do know we estimate the same number of high school students. So, we will staff accordingly," said Dr. Ferebee.

"We firmly believe this will be a game changer for our employers and ensuring that they have a pipeline of young people that are ready to take Indianapolis and Indiana to the next level."

Public hearings will take place in July and August. The school board will vote on the recommended closures in September. If approved, Arlington, Broad Ripple Northwest and John Marshall would close prior to the 2018-2019 school year.

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