School Visit Series: Shortridge High School

My continuing tour of schools that serve my North Side clients landed me at Shortridge High School this snowy morning. Named Indiana’s 23rd best by US News & World Report last year, I was keen to see both the building and how its most recent incarnation has worked.

To talk about Shortridge without mentioning its history would be unfair to the reader as it plays such a large part of its current story.

Shortridge was Indiana’s first public high school, founded in 1864. Its current building at 34th & North Meridian, built in the 1920s and renovated several times since, was named last year by Architectural Digest as Indiana’s “most beautiful” public high school. With good reason. It is a collection of carved limestone, woodwork, broad hallways, even a courtyard. And a brand new gym. The impressive Caleb Mills Auditorium was the original home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. And, of course, there are the alums: Vonnegut, Spruance, Lugar, Wakefield, Eskenazi, Lacy, DeFrantz, Glick, Jacobs, Myers, SerVaas, and so many more. People who have guided, protected, informed, and entertained Indianapolis and our country.

Few schools have reinvented themselves as frequently as Shortridge. Before the 1920s, it was Downtown and served as one of only three high schools. In the 1920s, it controversially moved to the North Side. In the 1950s, it could have served as the setting for the old television show “Happy Days” and had been named among the top 38 high schools in America by Time magazine. In the late 1960s-early 1970s, it reflected the turmoil brought on by the great changes in our society that spurred suburbia and population movement.

For the next decade, it developed a performing arts program of some note. But it was also threatened with closure on an almost-annual basis. Given that students were often attending school board meetings and arranging public events to keep the school open, more than a few people joked that the threat served as a very effective civics class. It was finally closed in 1981, only to reopen as a middle school several years later. More recently, Shortridge once again became a high school with a magnet program based on law and public policy.

Four years ago, Shortridge became the home for the district’s International Baccalaureate program. I’ve discussed this academically-tough program in a previous blog. This year, Shortridge also became home to IPS’s Arts & Humanities program that was previously at the former Broad Ripple High School. A career-track program is also now part of the school.

High school students are not assigned schools. They select from unique programs at each of the system’s four high schools. Changes in the way the state funds schools also allow students from outside the IPS district to attend if there is room. Shortridge now has approximately 1,000 students.

Madeline, a senior who is president of the student body, was my personal tour guide. She lives in Brownsburg and travels to Shortridge each day. She initially went to a well-known private high school on the North Side, but transferred to Shortridge her sophomore year. She plans to earn both business and law degrees and work in some area of social improvement. Among her many extracurricular activities, she is a school archivist – something that immediately endeared her to me for reasons those who know me will understand.

I look for general impressions in these school visits without getting too far into “the weeds.” Among the things that caught my attention were:

1. Each grade has an off-campus excursion such as camping, going to Washington, D.C., Chicago, etc. Many of this year’s seniors are going to Panama. These aren’t all-paid trips, but are paid-for by the students over the course of two years.

2. With the realignment of IPS this past year, I wondered about sports. All of the usual high school varsity sports are offered. Did I mention the great new gym and recently-lighted football field?

3. Madeline emphasized how approachable her teachers have been;

4. All students, regardless of which program they follow, attend homeroom together where they bond;

5. Each grade meets with principal Shane O’Day each month as a group;

6. Special programs have been proving popular: a Purdue-bound arrangement, an Ernst & Young program;

7. The students I ran into in the front office, at the door, in the halls, were all polite and friendly. The halls were quiet while classes were being conducted;

8. The historic building, renovated several times, was clean, well-maintained, and orderly.

9. In a previous SHS incarnation, dozens of Hoosier Group paintings (T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, etc.) used to hang in the third floor gallery. Today, I spotted a large Forsyth and few others by other artists. The remainder of the collection went to the Indiana Historical Society back in the 1980s. Madeline says that they are trying to arrange for a few of them to return;

10. The school seems to be “gelling” very well. Given the incoming students from IPS high schools that closed last year, as well as the addition of new programs to the IB program, there was understandable concern that the school would become Balkanized. Teams and clubs made a point of including students from all constituencies and this seems to have worked well;

11. As I left the marble-floored entry to the outside, I ran into a parent who had recently enrolled his child. They had recently arrived from the devastation of Puerto Rico. He reported that he had been very happy with what he found at Shortridge.

If all of this seems a bit too idyllic, I understand.

I admit to being predisposed to wanting Shortridge to succeed, given my Butler-Tarkington background and my many friends and family who have attended in the past. And my visit was only for 1 ½ hours. And my guide was a highly-motivated student body president. And no high school exists without angst-ridden teenagers. And it’s impossible to have an entire faculty of teachers-of-the-year.

But it was clear that Madeline was transparent and sincere.

And teachers and students were smiling, even in the JROTC class.

For more information: www.myips.org/shs




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