In the hours before the first week at Shortridge High School came to a close, about 20 students in the advanced choir class were dashing back and forth across the room. On one side of the classroom, the aim was to guess which student held the key. On the other, it was to pass the key in secret.
For teacher Daria Weingartner, however, the goal of this game had little to do with singing. Rather, it was about bringing together a class with students who’ve come from high schools across the city.
Last school year, Shortridge had fewer than 450 students. This fall, enrollment swelled to more than 1,000, following the closure of three of Indianapolis Public School’s other high school campuses. As a result, Shortridge educators like Weingartner spent their first week trying to build a sense of community at a school where about two-thirds of students are new — including many of the upperclassmen in the advanced choir class.
“It’s OK that we’re all coming from different places,” Weingartner said. “But we’re here now, and we need to build that sense of community and family.”
Weingartner herself is new to Shortridge. She’s been teaching for seven years, but last year, she worked at Warren Central High School.
When Shortridge Principal Shane O’Day learned last fall that the historic midtown high school would stay open and three other district high schools would close, he almost immediately began looking for more teachers. At high schools across the district, 418 educators were displaced during the restructuring.
Over the past several months, Shortridge — preparing to welcome hundreds more students and to house Broad Ripple High School’s displaced arts programs — hired about 60 new staff members, O’Day said.
This fall, the school added classes in some subjects, such as dance, sculpture, and photography, and it expanded offerings in others, such as music and theater.
The change is part of a broad restructuring that is transforming high schools in the state’s largest district. Last year, Indianapolis Public Schools officials shuttered three of the seven campuses in the district. The redesign was intended to help the district save money, by closing underused campuses and creating larger schools, and to improve academic quality at the four remaining schools. The district also added new focus areas — such as health sciences, business, and construction — eliminated neighborhood boundaries for high school, and encouraged students to choose schools based on their interests.
The changes at high schools could be just the beginning for the district, which may soon be forced to close more than a dozen additional schools to save money.
Shortridge expanded from a dedicated magnet for International Baccalaureate, which allows students to earn college credits in high school. It continues to offer I.B. diplomas, but there are also students focusing on the arts. Students can take courses in both focus areas, regardless their specialization, according to O’Day.
Ultimately, Shortridge staff are focused on creating a school culture that is welcoming of students regardless of where they come from, O’Day said.
“When we talk about culture, it’s a lot of listening,” he said. “When you allow students themselves to share their stories — talk about their backgrounds, their passions, their interests, their hopes, what they want to do to make their world a better place — that’s exciting.”
Sophomore Shayna Bailey is one of the students who will likely benefit from the school’s increasingly diverse academic offerings. A self-described “choir and drama girl” in Weingartner’s choir class, Bailey is also in her second year in the Shortridge I.B. program.
This year, the school is a lot more crowded, she said. But “I’m a very social person, so it just means a lot more friends for me,” Bailey said. “I get to learn more things about new people.”
For the students who are new to the school, the transition can be more challenging.
Senior Marqueshia Allen was so nervous about her first day at Shortridge, she thought about skipping altogether. She had been a student at Broad Ripple High School since she was in sixth grade. She was devastated when that school was closed and she realized she would have to transfer for her senior year.
But Allen was determined to find the good in her new school. By Friday of her first week, she was at ease at Shortridge.
What stands out is how welcoming teachers and students have been, she said. “Everybody is so open. They are willing to help you out,” Allen said. “It’s actually been amazing.”
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.