There are countless emotions tied to Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), and even more emotions now associated with the district due to the proposal to close or repurpose three of its high schools.
It is a lot to analyze — even for the most astute. Nonetheless, IPS is a major issue, and quite honestly has been a major issue for many years.
I am a proud product of IPS. I wear my time in the district as a badge of honor, not as something I am ashamed of, like many expected of my peers and me at the time, and like some people expect of the current students. Public schools. Even then, so many years ago, there was a stigma associated with the district. That stigma has continued; some years are worse than others, but there has seemingly always been a stigma attached to the district.
In the past, the stigma often came from people outside IPS’ administration and staff. Now, some people wonder if the district’s powers-that-be are actually the ones who look adversely at its student population.
“Arlington High School is located at 46th and Arlington. John Marshall is at 42nd and Post Road. These are areas with primarily Black and Hispanic families — they are impoverished areas. To close schools in some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods is a clear (indication) that you don’t care,” James Turner said passionately. Turner spent his entire formative years as an IPS student. He was also so dedicated to the district that he and his wife made the decision to enroll their children in IPS. In addition, Turner worked for the district, first as special needs assistant, then a graduation coach and later as dean of students.
In addition to the elimination of schools in neighborhoods that desperately need them, Turner thinks centralizing Indianapolis high schools to a handful of locations can be a safety hazard for students.
“You have students from Haughville, 42nd and Post Road, Hillside — all these kids will be at the same school. There will be neighborhood beef amongst the students because not all neighborhoods get along; some kids represent the places they live and are willing to fight for their neighborhood. There will be safety hazards — even for the students who are there simply to learn.”
In 2014 Turner ran a compassionate grassroots campaign for a seat on the IPS board of commissioners. He was defeated, but he remains committed to “ensuring the safety and success of our babies” by staying engaged in news impacting IPS’ students.
I don’t personally believe that Superintendant Dr. Lewis Ferebee or any of the administration’s leadership at IPS disregards children in the district or looks down on them; after all, Ferebee and many of his subordinates are minorities whose children also attend schools in the district. However, I do think that some things could have been done differently, especially given the historical climate of IPS and the individuals who have supported the district for decades, as well as the fact that Ferebee and others on his team are from other states, so they may not fully understand the depth of the issues from a community perspective.
One thing the district could have done during this process is convene a more diverse task force. By diverse, I’m not referring to racial diversity. I mean having people serve on the task force who aren’t business professionals, representatives of nonprofits or who don’t have a big name or a fancy title. IPS could have benefited from someone like a James Turner to serve on the task force, because he is not only in the community, but he is also of the community. Turner and others like him could have been a voice for ordinary community people who have a passion for the district and want it to succeed. Even if the result would have been the same, inviting different types of people who have different perspectives to the table would have at least put the grassroots community at rest knowing they had someone whom they trusted representing their views. However, I strongly believe if there were more regular, everyday folks involved in the task force, other possible out-of-the-box solutions would have been presented.
Don’t get me wrong; from a business perspective, I understand how it doesn’t make sense for a building that was built to accommodate 2,500 students to remain open for only 500 students. Operational costs skyrocket for an institution that isn’t meeting its capacity — I get that. However, even some of IPS’ reasoning behind the suggested closures doesn’t make sense long term. There will be an annual savings and possibly a large chunk of money for the selling of the Broad Ripple facility — something to the tune of $6–8 million for the sale — but the district has to prove beyond the operational costs why they are closing the schools. Those explanations have to make sense for the next school year and even for the one five years from now.
It is a sad day for IPS, and it is time everyone reflect on what they can do and could have done to prevent such a fate. If nothing else, hopefully whatever is derived from the self-reflections can help IPS become a better entity in the future.