“Rebuilding Stronger:” District Unveils Plan For IPS Schools

By Caroline Beck

Indianapolis Public School’s Superintendent Alessia Johnson released the final draft of the “Rebuilding Stronger” plan on Tuesday night which proposes major district changes including closing certain schools and rebuilding others.

Johnson gave the announcement during her state of the district address marking a year since the beginning of the initiative which aimed to re-envision how the district uses its resources as it faces budget deficits, enrollment issues, underutilized facilities and lagging student achievement.

During Johnson’s speech, held at Arlington Middle School, she acknowledged that some of the changes proposed will be hard, especially the strain put on communities that face school closures.

“But what I also believe to be true is what these decisions will make possible,” Johnson said. “What it will mean for our kids when we have the resources to do right by them in a way we haven’t for a long time.”

The district released five possible proposals for the plan in June which all remain on the current plan along with three additional suggestions.

Since then the district has been asking for feedback from the community and has faced opposition from some parents asking to not take away K-8 schools and from others who are asking that data-driven decisions be made to help students of color.

Here are the eight proposals the district is suggesting under the Rebuilding Stronger plan:

1. School closures and consolidations for the district

Seven schools will either be closed or closed and then merged with another school as part of the district’s proposed plan. Four schools will be completely closed down while three other ones would be merged with an already existing facility.

School facilities closing:

  • Francis Bellamy School 102
  • George Buck School 94
  • Floro Torrence School 83
  • Raymond Brandes School 65

Families who were attending these schools would then receive enhanced priority enrollment for any other school within their new enrollment zones.

School facilities closing and merging:

  • Paul Miller School 114 facility would close and merge with Frederick Douglass School 19. The innovation contract with Super School 19 at Frederick Douglas would not be renewed after this school year.
  • Center for Inquiry School 2 facility would close and merge with the Washington Irving School 14 facility. The Innovation contract with Urban Act Academy would not renew after this school year and School 14 would house the CFI program.
  • Francis Parker School 56 facility would close but would move its Montessori program to the James Russell Lowell School 51 facility.

Each facility the plan proposes to close would stop providing instructional classes by the end of this school year.

The district said it does not anticipate a need for a reduction in staffing because of the changes in the plan, Christina Aden, the chief human resources officer for IPS, said during a media briefing before Tuesday’s announcement.

The district estimates that a total of 328 staff members would be impacted in the first year of implementation of the plan.

To help retain these staff members IPS wants to implement a $10,000 retention bonus at the end of this school year for those directly impacted by the changes. There would also be a $12,000 retention bonus for directly impacted principals and assistant principals. Principals at the schools facing closures would receive a $20,000 retention bonus—all of which would occur at the end of this school year.

2. District grade reconfigurations and add more enrichment programs

Most of IPS’ K-6 or K-8 schools will now be turned into K-5 schools and 6-8 middle schools under the proposed plan. That change in grade reconfiguration would go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year.

By reconfiguring and scaling all the schools, the hope is that more access will be available to music, art, physical education and computer science classes throughout the district.

Many of IPS’ innovation schools, which are run by charter operators and have special agreements with the district, are choosing not to break up their schools to the K-5 model.

The proposed plan would also make sure that each enrollment zone would have access to dual language schools, STEM schools, high-ability schools and art schools.

By creating more classroom space in the K-5 schools, the goal is to hopefully increase enrichment programs such as art, music and athletics in IPS’ neighborhood schools, which have been severely lacking compared to the district’s choice schools.

The only K-8 schools that would change to a 6-8 middle schools are William Penn School 49 and Edison School of the Arts School 47.

3. Enrollment zones and elimination of proximity boundaries

The district would be split up into four different enrollment zones and families would get to choose from any school within their zone where they would like to send their child, under the proposed plan.

If a family ends up moving within their zone, that student could still stick with the same school and would still be provided transportation.

The creation of the zones also means that the entire district’s enrollment process would be done through the lottery system run by Enroll Indy, Patrick Herrel, director of enrollment and options and IPS, told IndyStar ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

Herrel said the zones were created with three guiding principles in mind: to encompass current neighborhood boundaries, to capture student movement seen in the last three years and for each zone to be relatively representative of the district’s overall race and income demographics.

The district is also removing the enrollment proximity boundaries from its choice schools, which historically helped create less diverse choice schools, Harrel said.

4. Facilities upgrades and renovations, adding new middle schools

Multiple facilities will be upgraded or completely rebuilt as part of the proposed plan.

Where the current Francis Parker School 56 is located, the district is proposing to build a completely new building, which would then house the district’s grade 1-5 high-ability program. That is scheduled to open for the 2026-2027 school year.

The Joyce Kilmer School 69 would also be rebuilt and would house the Montessori program from the school 56 and 51 merger, when it is scheduled to open in the 2026-2027 school year.

Each middle school in the district will be receiving renovations based on the needs of that school. The most significant changes will be at Northwest and Arlington Middle School where both will see investments in their athletic facilities.

The old Broad Ripple High School building would be used as a new middle school and is scheduled to open for the 2024-2025 school year. The 6-8 grades there would co-locate with the Purdue Polytechnic High School that’s already been using the building this year.

Another school that would be reopened would be the Thomas Carr Howe School and would be another new middle school for the district. It would open for the 2023-2024 school year.

5. Expanding and replicating high-demand schools

The district is proposing expanding its Center for Inquiry schools and Montessori schools to multiple new facilities in the district.

The Center for Inquiry school model would be replicated at the George W. Julien School 57 and the Carl Wilde School 79.

The Montessori school model would be replicated at Eleanor Skillen School 34. All of those replicated programs would start in the 2024-2025 school year.

Another visual and performing arts school will open up at the James W. Riley School 43 for the 2023-2024 school year and would be operated by the Edison School for the Arts. William Penn School 49 would also become a STEM school and would start serving 6-8 grades in the 2024-2025 school year. Additional seats for the dual language program through the Global Prep Academy will also be made available at H. L. Harshman School 101 Middle School in the 2024-2025 school year.

6. Redistributing pre-K seats

District leaders are proposing to redistribute existing pre-K seats around the district, but will not be adding more pre-K seats.

The district looked at birth rates for each zone and used that data to predict what the expected need will be for pre-K seats in the coming years, Shareyna Chang, executive director of portfolio strategy for IPS, told IndyStar ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

This move also involves closing down the district’s only pre-K center, the Francis Bellamy 102 pre-school center, and instead locating more pre-K seats in existing K-5 schools. The schools where seats will be added include Carl Wilde 79, Charles Fairbanks 105, Brookside 54, James Garfield 31 and Daniel Webster 46.

Chang said some of the reasons for closing the school are that it is not located centrally enough to be easily accessed by most families in the district and has not seen a lot of interest from families.

7. Special education in all zones

The district wants to place special education services in each zone, instead of now where they are spread out across the district.

Chang said that would look like placing their special needs classrooms in already existing facilities that have been rated as higher quality and have stable leadership to give more stability to those vulnerable students.

The programs the district wants to equitably distribute across the zones include the district’s ”programs for young children,” life skills, intensive intervention classes and autism classes.

8. High-ability program eligibility changes

How the district determines high-ability school placements would also change under the proposed plan, with instead of requiring that a student be identified as high ability in both English/language arts and math, to now only requiring one or both subjects.

The high-ability program currently operates in the Merle Sidener Academy School 59, and has grades 2-8. The high-ability program would then move to the Francis W. Parker School 56 building which Chang said is more centrally located in the district and therefore can be more easily accessible for the entire district.

The high-ability program at the Francis W. Parker school would then reopen for the school year 2026-2027 after the building is completely rebuilt and would serve grades 1-5. The middle school high-ability program would be located at H. L. Harshman School 101 for grades 6-8.

What are the next steps?

The entire plan and how individual schools will be affected can be seen online myips.org.

District leaders are now encouraging community members and IPS families to share their thoughts and opinions about the plan during one of the several community meetings scheduled throughout September and October.

To see when and where all of the meetings are at go to myips.org/rebuilding-stronger-community-conversations.

The IPS board of commissioners is scheduled to take a final vote on the plan during their November board meeting.