NewsEducation / September 26, 2019

Eastside Church Becomes Home To Rooted Charter High School, Maybe A Middle School Too

Eastern Star Church Senior Pastor Jeffrey Johnson and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett stand outside the church on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. - By Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Eastern Star Church Senior Pastor Jeffrey Johnson and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett stand outside the church on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.

By Eric Weddle/WFYI News

An Eastside church will be the home for a new secular public charter high school and possibly a future middle school as part of a collaboration with education reform group The Mind Trust.

Eastern Star Church and the group envision a pre-school-to-graduate pathway for the families in and around the Arlington Woods neighborhood, which includes IPS School 99. The Mind Trust will spend more than $1 million on three schools around the church.

“All of that is going to be right here in Arlington Woods, in 46218, in a community that unfortunately has been overlooked for far too long,” Jeffrey Johnson, the senior pastor, says. “But now it is a joy to see this community growing.”

Through Eastern Star’s The Rock Initiative, the church built affordable housing and a grocery store and credit union.  In the past two years, the church invested more than $5 million in the area through its not-for-profit subsidiary, Jewel Human Services. Most of the funding comes from private donations.

As part of the initiative, Rooted School, a charter high school recently approved by the mayor’s office, will open on the campus next summer. The New Orleans-based school’s focus is to ready students for high-paying jobs or college -- so all graduates will be financially independent. It will offer project-based and small group learning, and each student will have a computer to take home.

Rooted is a public school and will not teach or promote the Eastern Star Church’s Christian beliefs.

Rooted School will have space for 60 ninth graders in the 2020-21 year. Its plan calls for adding a grade level each year to eventually enroll 240 students.

Johnson says families have been impacted by the closure of Arlington and John Marshall high schools. In 2018, Indianapolis Public Schools closed those and two other high schools as part of a consolidation plan.

He says strengthening the community involves teaching financial literacy and offering high-quality education options. 

“This is an area that is poverty-stricken, unfortunately, it is a high percentage of persons who are in poverty,” he says. “So we want to come alongside them and try and move them to financially self-sufficiently.”

The Mind Trust picked Rooted School’s Founder Jonathan Johnson for its Charter School Design Challenge in 2017. Through a $250,000 grant, Johnson replicated the first Rooted School for Indianapolis.

Ma’at Lands, a former Lighthouse Academies assistant principal, and North Central graduate is the principal. She had been looking for a location on the Far Eastside. In the past few months, a partnership with Eastern Star became to take shape, says Mind Trust CEO, Brandon Brown.

“Too often when we talk about reforming schools and trying to make schools better for our kids. It's done to communities and not with communities,” Brown said. “And I think today this is done in partnership on so many levels, with community stakeholders who deeply believe in the kids in this neighborhood.”

Eastern Star offers a preschool program through Day Early Learning on its campus and has more than a 20-year partnership with nearby Arlington Woods School 99.

Now a 7-8th grade middle school is under the plan to open on the for the Eastern Star campus.

The Mind Trust, for the first time, is seeking an educator to design the middle school. Typically, school leaders and other educators apply for fellowships to design a school based on their own curriculum.

“This will be done in collaboration with Eastern Star to make sure we find the right leader who will then spend up to two years planning for a launch of the school in 2022,” Brown says of the school that would require charter authorization to open.

The Mind Trust is also working with Arlington Woods School 99 to become an innovation school, a distinction that will allow it to operate with autonomy within the IPS district.

Mayor Joe Hogsett praised the work of the Eastern Star and The Mind Trust as he spoke to a crowd gathered outside the church on Thursday.

“With the addition of a middle school and a search for its educational leader already underway, we will see the fulfillment of so much potential,” Hogsett says. “There are brilliant young minds all throughout 46218. Don't let anyone tell you differently.”

The Mind Trust is accepting candidates for the Innovation School Fellow program to design the proposed Arlington Woods neighborhood middle school.

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