Home Career The Indianapolis School Board is undergoing a Rebuilding Stronger overhaul.

The Indianapolis School Board is undergoing a Rebuilding Stronger overhaul.

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Indianapolis Public Schools will close six buildings and rearrange elementary and middle school classrooms across the district after the school board approved the Rebuilding Stronger plan Thursday night.

The sweeping overhaul, approved by a unanimous board, is the district’s attempt to address several of the district’s most pressing issues, including declining enrollment, looming financial instability and educational inequities for students of color.

Passage of plan came after months of public input, dozens of community and school meetings and objections from various school communities.

Now the district must focus on passing two ballot questions totaling about $810 million in new property taxes that officials hope to put before voters in May to fund the changes included in Rebuilding Stronger.

School Board President Evan Hawkins addressed the students in a statement before the vote.

“Your choices. And at the heart of Rebuilding Stronger is the belief that you deserve access to the very best that this community has to offer you,” he said. “Staff and administrators, I want to admit that change is difficult. We’ve all been through a lot in the last couple of years. But I believe you are poised to make this district truly incredible for the students and families who trust you.”

Hours of public comment before the vote expressed a wide range of support and opposition to the plan. Current and former students at schools with special replication programs have expressed support for the expansion of special arts and schools at the Research Center. Others urged the school board to delay the vote, arguing the plan still doesn’t address equity.

Parents associated with nonprofits that support charter schools echoed their concerns about replicating the Center for Research’s schools plan. Many insist the school instead partner with the Paramount charter school chain, where data show many black students have excelled.

“The schools we choose to develop as part of this plan matter,” said LaToya Hale-Tahiru, a Paramount parent. “And I can’t support a plan if it doesn’t include growing data-backed models that address the opportunity gap.”

But Michael Harris, assistant principal at School 60 Butler Lab, said the plan to separate the K-8 schools into separate elementary and middle schools will help his school run more smoothly.

“I understand that the decisions are difficult, those who sit there understand it perfectly,” he told the panel. “But we have to make decisions for the long term. And I think this plan sets us up for long-term success.”

Schools will close, academic programs will expand

The plan allows the district to close six underserved schools at the end of the school year and consolidate classrooms at others to operate more efficiently. Classroom reconfigurations at the district’s remaining elementary and middle schools will begin mostly in 2024-25.

It will also expand specialized academic programs — such as International Baccalaureate and Montessori — to students throughout the district, which will be divided into four broad enrollment zones. Students will be able to choose any school within their zone.

The changes, district officials said, are designed to expand educational opportunities and expand choice — an important goal given that the district has recently lost many of its students to charter schools.

Rebuilding Stronger will give all middle school students access to band and orchestra, world language and Algebra I. Fewer than half of middle school students currently have access to these offerings.

The plan will also double the number of places in specialist programs that produce high academic results or are in high demand.

Disappointment with Rebuilding Stronger remains

After public feedback, the district did several changes in the plan after the release of the initial version in September.

Research Center of Secondary School 2, for example, will not close and team up with the Urban Act Academy at Washington Irving School 14 as Rebuilding Stronger envisioned. Earlier this month the district abandoned the plans for a charter operator to start a bilingual program at Harshman Middle School.

And Francis Parker Montessori School Building 56 will not be demolished to make way for the new Sidener Academy for gifted students. Instead, Sidener will be moved to Joyce Kilmer 69’s old school location.

But those revisions did not pay attention to all problems and grievances.

Super School 19 and Urban Act Academy, two charter schools in the district’s innovative network, will no longer operate the schools if the board of directors decides not to renew the district’s agreement with them. as recommended by district staff.

And the parents of 56 schools still hoped that their children would stay in the building. Instead, School 56 will close and students will move to nearby James Russell Lowell School 51.

Three people elected to the school board earlier this month also expressed concern about the plan, saying at an October forum that they would vote against according to the original plan.

The Mind Trust, which helps create charter schools across Indianapolis, said in a statement before the vote that it did not support the plan. Among other issues, the group argued that the district’s recently announced intention to partner with more innovative charter schools is an attempt avoid selling or leasing closed school buildings to rent schools for $1, as required by state law.

“Overall, The Mind Trust believes that the Rebuilding Stronger plan will exacerbate racial disparities in IPS, rather than reduce them,” the group said.

Amelia Pack-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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