IPS OKs Shortridge High School student shift over objections

The Indianapolis Public Schools board on Tuesday night went ahead with a plan to shift programs out of Shortridge High School to make room for International Baccalaureate students from Gambold Prep High School over the objections of a long line of Shortridge supporters who blasted the move.

The 164-student IB program will replace Shortridge’s law and public policy magnet program, which will move about 300 Shortridge students to Arsenal Tech High School. Shortridge will drop middle school grades, converting to a high school for grades 9 to 12. The plan passed 4-1, with only board member Samantha Adair-White voting no.

About 75 students, parents and community members came to oppose the plan. Many argued the move was primarily designed to cater to wealthier white families with children who attend magnet schools on the city’s north side while forcing poorer children and children of color out of the school.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the issue is not one of race and class. He said both schools include a majority of non-white students and students poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

“It is important that we not embed or insert the issue of race or equity in this conversation,” he said. “This is a conversation about access and also ensuring a rigorous option for our students.”

Shortridge's enrollment is 87-percent black, Hispanic or multiracial, and 81 percent of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. For a family of four, that means an annual income of $43,500 or less. Gambold has fewer poor children and minority students, but not by large margin. It is 65-percent black, Hispanic or multiracial, with 70 percent who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Gambold and Shortridge were reorganized to include specialty magnet programs under former Superintendent Eugene White in 2012 and 2009, respectively. Gambold serves grades 9 to 11 and was scheduled to expand to 12th grade next year. Shortridge has about 700 students in grades 6 to 12.

IB is a not-for-profit group created by educators at the International School of Geneva, Switzerland, with a goal of establishing a program that requires students to meet high standards, learn foreign languages take an international view of academic studies, such as by examining culture and identity. It is sometimes compared with Advanced Placement courses for its college-level rigor.

Olivia O’Neal, a Shortridge junior in the law and public policy program, said IPS should not move hundreds of students from the school just to help the IB program.

“(IB) is an elitist program designed only for a certain group of students,” O’Neal said.

Such a move was discussed last year, with encouraging families from magnet schools to enroll their students in the IB high school program rather than move to private or charter high schools among the motivations, board members said. Ferebee said the plan will more efficiently use buildings in the district and lead to more space in magnet programs that are in high demand.

Joyce Moore, a parent of IPS graduates who also graduated from the district, was skeptical of Ferebee’s plan, saying the move would be disruptive for students, leading to ill effects.

“Is a centralized IB program a good idea?” she said. “Show us the data stating so. The proposal before us has none. The community needs to know why (the changes are) happening and is it economically feasible, not just that it will occur.”

But students from Gambold argued that using the Shortridge building to accommodate more IB students enriches the whole district.

“As a community, the goal of our school is to be able to develop for anyone needing a quality education,” Gambold student Donna Johnson said. “Our current location is preventing us from being able to do so. By relocating to Shortridge, a myriad of opportunities will open up to us.”

Board member Caitlin Hannon said the decision has been a long time coming and shouldn’t have been a surprise.

“Since I’ve been on the board this has been a topic of discussion,” Hannon said. “It’s always been my understanding that Gambold would move at some point.”

Another part of the magnet plan presented last week—closing Key Learning Community School and moving the mass communications and media program from Broad Ripple High School to Arsenal Tech High School—was tabled until the board’s Dec. 2 meeting.

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit -profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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