With enrollment in decline, Bates-Hendricks school seeks new neighbors’ input

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — As people move back to downtown Indianapolis and its surrounding neighborhoods, Indianapolis Public Schools faces growing pressure to improve school choice and existing neighborhood schools. 

Enrollment at James A. Garfield School 31, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade in the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood, is on the decline in spite of explosive growth in the area. 

Mom Bethany Friesen is the kind of person who does her research, but picking a school for her son was a little different. 

“We are really the first of the, like, traditionally middle-class families, that are sending our kid there (James A. Garfield School 31). It is definitely a leap-of-faith kind of a thing,” Friesen said. 

The school had an F rating two years ago. That score improved, and the principal is hoping for more improvement this year. To sell the school to new people in the neighborhood, the administration has invited the community into the conversation.

Trending Headlines

Parents who talked to News 8 said they were looking for a well-rounded neighborhood school that was not heavy on technology and had a focus on a early childhood education.

The leap of faith in the area can be seen at just about every corner, with new homes being built, old houses renovated and people coming back to this part of the city.

All but one of those changes seems positive to Adrienne Kuchick, the interim principal at James A. Garfield.

“People move into these homes that are now costing $200,000-$300,000, and all of the renters are moving out. They are just not enrolling,” Kuchick said.

For the folks coming to this area, finding the right school isn’t easy. The Garfield school wasn’t the first choice for many people. Friesen wanted a school her son could walk to, a school that provided structure. She found that school right down the street. 

“Sometimes you feel like ‘I really have to defend our choice.’ I tell them what we were looking for for our son in particular was a school he could walk to, a school he would be at with his friends and his neighbors, and we really wanted the structure of a tradtional neighborhood school,” Friesen said. 

To help connect the new neighbors with the school, Kuchick has done something few, if any, principals have done lately: She opened the doors to the school for a public forum. 

“Ask the community, why not us? Because they are sending their kids to Butler Lab. They live here, walking distance. They are sending their kids to Butler Lab to CFI 2 (Center for Inquiry School 2), to Sidener (Academy for High Ability Students), but not us. And you can walk to us, so like, what are you looking for? Are you sending them there because we don’t offer STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)? OK, then we will offer STEM,” Kuchick said. 

The school will offer some STEM programs and music education next year. The neighborhood is asking for those programs, and Kuchick plans to deliver.