IPS plan would close Key, and shift programs at four schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Key Learning Community, a K-12 school famous for its unique curriculum, will close at the end of the school year.

One of Indianapolis Public School’s most famous schools would shut down and four others would see dramatic changes to their offerings under a plan presented to the school board tonight.

The plan is to close Key Learning Community, a K-12 magnet school that opened in 1987 as the world’s first with curriculum inspired by the Multiple Intelligences theory, in 2016.

It also would shift the International Baccalaureate program from Gambold Preparatory High School on the Northwest side to Shortridge High School on the North side. That program would replace Shortridge’s signature law and public policy program, which would move to Arsenal Tech High School to make room.

Arsenal would also absorb the media and mass communications program from Broad Ripple High School under the plan.

Besides Key, all the other changes would occur before the next school year begins.

More than two dozen parents, mostly from Shortridge and Broad Ripple, said after the meeting that they were concerned about the moves and angry that they were not given an opportunity to speak. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said they would still get that opportunity next week.

“We will have opportunities for our citizens to weigh in,” he said.

Changes at five schools

Gambold and Shortridge were among several schools that former superintendent Eugene White reopened or reorganized by placing a specialty magnet program on those campuses. Gambold reopened in 2012 and has 164 students in grades 9 to 11. Shortridge was converted to a magnet high school in 2009 and has about 700 students in grades 6 to 12.

The possibility of moving the IB program to Shortridge was first raised last year, with idea of having the school located closer to magnet elementary schools on the city’s North side, like the Centers for Inquiry and Sidener Gifted Academy, as part of the thinking in hopes those families would stay in IPS by choosing the IB program rather than opting for private and charter high schools.

Gambold earned an A grade from the state. Shortridge’s high school was rated a C and middle school was rated a D by the state for low test scores last year.

Broad Ripple is an arts and humanities magnet high school with about 915 students in grades 6 to 12. The school earned a B for its high school and an F for its middle school from the state last year based on test scores and other factors. The school would continue to offer performing and visual arts and humanities magnet programs under the proposal.

Arsenal Tech, the district’s largest high school with more than 1,800 students in grades 9 to 12, already has 22 magnet programs in specialties as diverse as culinary arts, fire rescue and welding. It has been rated a D for three straight years.

Parent concerns

Parents who came to the meeting said they receive an automated phone call late Monday, after the deadline to sign up 24 hours in advance to speak to the board. They said they would be back on Tuesday to speak against the proposal before the board votes.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it and that’s why I’m down here,” said Theresa Harris, a Broad Ripple graduate with a son who attends the school now.

Mary Juerling, a member of the group Parent Power and mother of a recent transfer student to Shortridge, said the plan was unfair. For example, she said, it would require perhaps more than 700 students to move from the school to stay with their magnet programs, while little more than 100 would be moving in.

Several parents asked why the district didn’t just move the Gambold IB program to Arsenal Tech and leave Shortridge out of it.

“My choices are being taken away in my local community,” Juerling said.

Jeurling also said the move had racial implications, potentially moving a larger numbers of poor, black and Hispanic children to make way for programs that serve more white families and wealthy families.

Shortridge is 87 percent black, Hispanic or multiracial and 81 percent come from families that are 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 is 65 percent black, Hispanic or multiracial with 70 percent who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“You see a disproportionate impact on certain racial groups,” Jeurling said.

Board members have questions

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the plan would make better use of school buildings, create more space in high demand programs and improve student achievement.

“We believe this is an opportunity for increased efficiency,” he said.

At least three board members — Michael Brown, Annie Roof and Gayle Cosby — appeared to have concerns about the plan or the process. Roof and Cosby asked about communication with the school about the proposal. Cosby said she was “dismayed” that parents and school staff weren’t involved in discussions about the future of the schools sooner.

“I have a concern about informing parents and families about something of this magnitude the night before,” she said.

Brown said the plan failed to take into account the historical reasons for why the programs were placed in the schools in the first place.

“I am not in favor of any of these moves,” Brown said.

The end of Key?

The closing of Key would bring an era of uniquely creative education to an end.

The Multiple Intelligences psychological theory was developed by Harvard professor Howard Gardner in a groundbreaking book in 1983. A group of IPS teachers who read it made a pilgrimage to meet Gardner at a speaking engagement in 1984, proposing the idea of building a school around the intelligences. Gardner gave his blessing.

The Key school opened with 150 students in grades K to 6 in 1987 to national media attention as a worldwide first and has since been extensively studied for its applications of Gardner’s ideas.

Gardner’s research attempted categorize human behaviors that he felt qualified as “intelligence:” visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematical. Every person, he theorized, possessed a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses in each category. Gardner also criticized standardized testing, arguing that it mostly measured just two types of intelligence.

The school embraced those ideas by attempting to create learning activities that allowed kids to play to their strengths, particularly through projects or by allowing unstructured time to explore their interests. Key enjoyed a run as one of the district’s most celebrated schools known for strong student performance and catering to some of the district’s wealthiest families. But by the early 2000s, student poverty had grown and test performance fell off dramatically.

Today, Key is a K-12 school on White River Parkway Drive near downtown Indianapolis, a site the district has identified as potentially valuable.

Principal Sheila Dollaske came on board in 2012 with the goal of invigorating the school. Key made dramatic test score gains at elementary grades soon after, but overall performance has been mixed. The school last year earned a C for middle and high school but an F for elementary school.

NOTE: This story was updated to correct the high school grade Shortridge received this year (C) and the grade for Gambold (A).

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.”