IPS delays move of arts program after call for 30-day waiting period

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A student works on a drawing in art class at Key Learning Community in 2013.

An Indianapolis Public School Board member Tuesday called for a 30-day waiting period before the district takes actions to make major changes to schools in the wake of a plan to move an arts magnet program.

The meeting was briefly interrupted when criticism of the board was deemed inappropriate and one speaker was escorted out of the building.

Under the plan, Key Learning Community would become an arts magnet program. The principal, teachers and materials would move from School 70 on the city’s North side to Key, located just west of downtown. After Cosby’s objection, the board delayed a planned vote on changes at School 70 until Nov. 9. It still plans to vote on the other changes on Thursday.

Key’s groundbreaking project learning-based program would close down, and the district’s middle school arts programs would move to the new magnet school, removing those grades from Broad Ripple High School, an arts magnet for grades 6-12.

After the board discussed the plan at a work session last week, parents at School 70 complained that they had not had an opportunity to give input on the plan. Parents and community leaders criticized the board at the meeting.

School 70 parent Laura Powell said her family picked the nearby school for their daughter because it was the neighborhood school, and they have been impressed by the quality of the arts program.

“I’m quite upset the school is likely to be moving,” she said. “I’d ask you if you could push the pause button on this thing so more community input could be gathered.”

An Indianapolis pastor, the Rev. David Greene, was even more critical, likening the surprise decision to move the arts program to being drugged and date-raped.

“There’s a clear message that the voices of parents and people are no longer of interest to IPS,” he said.

That preceded comments from Larry Vaughn, a one-time school board candidate and frequent protester at public meetings. Vaughn was critical of black board members, calling them “child molesters” for supporting policies he said hurt children. That brought five police officers and the head of security to the podium to escort him out.

Board member Sam Odle backed Cosby’s proposal to require a 30-day period to gather input for big changes to schools, such as those proposed for School 70, Key and Broad Ripple, that would “reconstitute, relocate or close” a school.

“I think that is definitely a good move,” he said.

Meetings are planned at the three schools for next week to share information with parents. He proposed putting off Thursday’s vote until after those meetings.

“After those appropriate meetings are had in the community, we look to the administration to bring a recommendation back to the board,” he said.

Board member Mary Ann Sullivan, however, said the board should get legal advice to accomplish Cosby’s goals but be sure the new rule doesn’t tie the board’s hands.

Cosby said she also had broader concerns about the district’s policy for how it assigns students to magnet schools, which she said exacerbated racial imbalance and prevented black and Hispanic children from having opportunities to attend the magnets that have the highest demand.

The magnet priority system gives the most weight, in order, to siblings of children attending magnet schools, those who live closest to the school and IPS employees.

Cosby argued that has led to three CFI schools with student enrollments that are 35 percent, 67 percent and 82 percent white in a district where white students make up just 20 percent of students overall. About half the district’s students are black, but the percentage of black students at the three CFI schools are 46 percent, 15 percent and 7 percent.

“This current tiered system of preference does nothing but perpetuate huge gaps in access for children of color,” Cosby said.

Cosby said she objected to a revision to the system that diminished an emphasis on promoting racial balance in IPS schools.

“I hate the fact that we are losing this language,” she said. “It’s powerful language.”

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he did not feel comfortable reassigning students, for example, to achieve racial balance, but Cosby said the policy also suggests ramping up recruiting of under-represented groups when schools get out of balance.

“We’re not an integrated district yet,” she said. “We need to continue to have policy that works toward that end goal.”

Ferebee said his main concern was a policy that required the superintendent to reassign students for racial balance, which he said he believed violated court rulings. But he agreed that recruiting students to magnet schools was likely permitted.

IPS wants to ensure students have access to their neighborhood schools, he said.

Two of the three CFI schools are located in North side neighborhoods that serve more white students. Administrators have said adding a fourth CFI school could help relieve a wait list for the three schools that has more than 300 students.

The proposed moves, Ferebee said, also should help the arts program by locating it near downtown arts centers and making it easier for children to attend an arts elementary school until they reach ninth grade, rather than move to Broad Ripple High School at sixth grade.

“This is a strategic effort to bolster the vision for performing and visual arts in the district,” he said. “I believe a barrier to the growth of performing and visual arts is the odd configuration of K-5 (at School 70) to 6-12 (at Broad Ripple). We need to be strategic about the facility we utilize to be sure students have the experience we want them to have as it relates to performing and visual arts.”

Board President Diane Arnold said Ferebee was only trying to take steps to accomplish two board directives: to move away from combined middle and high schools and to expand successful magnet programs to more schools.

“This just didn’t come out of the blue,” she said. “This is something this board has charged this administration with.”


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”