May 24, 2018

Educators Picked To Design 4 More 'Innovation' Schools For Indianapolis Public Schools

Tihesha Henderson, principal of Arlington Woods School 99, is one of the new Mind Trust Innovation School Fellows.  - Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Tihesha Henderson, principal of Arlington Woods School 99, is one of the new Mind Trust Innovation School Fellows.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Four more schools are in the pipeline to become Indianapolis innovation schools.

Local education reform group The Mind Trust announced Thursday the next batch of educators for its school design fellowship. Completion of the one-to-two-year program could result in the Indianapolis Public Schools Board granting the fellow a contract to either start a new school or restart a failing school.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says school leaders at the so-called Innovation Network Schools are given the power to run schools independently.

“Because I believe we have one of the most aggressive strategies for chronically low performing schools,” Ferebee said Thursday. “The fellowship has been an opportunity to invest in schools and communities that are struggling.”

Collaboration between Ferebee, Indianapolis Mayor’s Office and the Mind Trust led to the creation of innovation school legal status in 2014. State policy allows innovation schools to operate outside of district policies and collective bargaining laws for teacher and staff contracts.

Ferebee has leveraged the innovation model as means of avoiding state intervention on failing schools. Some Mind Trust fellows have restarted IPS schools with their unique academic models.

This fall there will be 20 Innovation Network Schools is the IPS district. The first such school opened in 2015 following the passage of state law that created the network status.

Brandon Brown, Mind Trust CEO, said Indianapolis is positioned to improve schools, unlike any other cities.

"While this work is early and new and while we all can't claim complete success yet, we have been seeing promising results," he said.

Enrollment is increasing at these schools, Brown said, and student academic growth is on the rise.

The four new fellows, including two from Indianapolis, will receive around $200,000 per year. That covers a $100,00 stipend, health insurance, travel to visit schools, legal assistance, consulting, training and more.

Fellow Tihesha Henderson, principal of Arlington Woods Elementary School 99, will spend a year developing an academic model and other supports to address trauma.

“Many of our students come with deep experiences of trauma. Some of them have deficits in reading, math critical thinking and problem-solving,” Henderson said. “So we will focus on social-emotion learning and turn to a trauma-informed school.”

The IPS Board must approve the plan of a Mind Trust fellow for the school to open within the district. The board can approve nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations or other types of management teams to operate the charter-like schools as part of the district. IPS principals can also petition the board to transition into this autonomous status.

These independent managers have their own board to oversee the school but the IPS Board holds ultimate authority to question or close the school because of poor performance or other issues.

Other fellows are:

  • Alicia Hervey, dean of Student Development for Christel House Academies in Indianapolis, plans to open “a culturally-responsive, holistic learning school that focuses on individually supporting each student,” according to the Mind Trust.
  • Kim Neal, Managing Director of Secondary Education for KIPP in Washington, DC. Neal will create a “rigorous college preparatory high school designed to help students develop self-regulation, self-efficacy, and leadership skills through small learning environments,” according to a news release.
  • Brandy Williams, founded Generation Success schools in New Orleans, LA. Williams plans to further develop the model of project-based learning in age-flexible classrooms to serve all students with an emphasis of those with special needs.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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