March 29, 2024

Groups criticize Girl Scouts' commitment to Black youth amid charter school fight

The charter network Paramount Schools of Excellence is partnering with Purdue Polytechnic High Schools and the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana to open Girls IN STEM Academy.  - Eric Weddle / WFYI

The charter network Paramount Schools of Excellence is partnering with Purdue Polytechnic High Schools and the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana to open Girls IN STEM Academy.

Eric Weddle / WFYI

The Girl Scouts of Central Indiana is facing criticism from three local groups that say it is not doing a good job of serving Black girls.

The critiques come amid controversy over the organization’s plans to open a school in Washington Township in partnership with a charter network.

The proposed school, Girls IN STEM Academy, would serve girls in kindergarten through 8th grade with a math and science focused curriculum.

The school would be run by Paramount Schools of Excellence, an Indianapolis-based charter school network. And Paramount is partnering with the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana.

MORE: Fight over all-girls charter school in Washington Township reflects ongoing tensions in education

The Community Alliance of the Far Eastside — or CAFE — and Alpha Kappa Alpha criticized the school’s plans to open in a heavily Black area of the city. They say the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana is not serving Black girls well.

“Girl Scouts is missing out on the opportunity to really lead a perspective of young women out there that can learn and glean from each other,” said Kiahna Davis, regional director of Alpha Kappa Alpha, an African American sorority.

CEO Kendra Nowell of CAFE wrote in a letter to the city that “the community was outraged” to learn that only about 10% of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana members are Black.

“It appears a lot of work needs to be conducted with the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana internally to address their own challenges of serving programming to Black girls in their appointed counties before creating new programming initiatives,” Nowell wrote. “The Far Eastside is holding the organization accountable for their disappearance from our community, and our hope is that other communities will do the same.”

Girl Scouts of Central Indiana CEO Danielle Shockey said that while it is true that only 10% of their members are Black, that number is missing context. The membership demographics of Girl Scouts vary by county, and in Marion County, membership is about 29% Black girls.

Shockey also said that the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana serves a higher proportion of Black girls now than in the past. In 2021, under 6% of members were Black.

Criticism of the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana came to a head because of the fight over the charter school. The Paramount charter network wants to open the school in a former church, but to do so, the city must rezone the location. Opponents of the school, including Metropolitan School District of Washington Township officials and residents, are using the rezoning process as an opportunity to fight back against the school.

Nowell’s letter to the city was submitted to the Metropolitan Development Commission as public comment on the rezoning.

MORE: City-County Council to vote if charter school opens in Washington Township as opposition grows

But many of the concerns about the Girl Scouts raised by community groups are not tied to the school. The Coalition of 100 Black Women of Indianapolis released a statement last week that  criticized the lack of diversity in the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana.

“As an advocacy group, we are profoundly concerned about the limited presence of Girl Scouts within the Black community, particularly the Far-Eastside of Indianapolis,” President Tenise Cornelius wrote in the letter. That letter also pointed to the number of Black girls in the regional organization.

In an interview with WFYI, Cornelius said that 100 Black Women does not have a position on the charter school. But she is concerned that not enough Black girls in Indianapolis have the opportunities that Girl Scouts offers.

“For many black girls who live in the city, Girl Scouts is an introduction to camping,” Cornelius said. “It's an introduction to collaboration. So some of those life skills are being neglected because such an inspiring organization no longer exists in the Black community.”

Tommy Reddicks, Executive Director of Paramount, said they partnered with Girl Scouts because of their efforts to serve Black girls in their careers. He believes much of the criticism has been politically charged.

“I think what that does is just build a culture of mistrust and I think that's been a very intentional political maneuver by the township to stop us from coming in,” Reddicks said. “If they can build enough mistrust, they can get enough people to speak out, they can stop the zoning. It's unfortunate because we're not walking in trying to create a fight, but we walked into a fight.”

The rezoning is expected to be heard at the next City-County Council meeting on April 1. Councilor Carlos Perkins, who represents the district of the Michigan Road building, has the opportunity to call the rezoning to a hearing within the council. If he doesn’t, the rezoning could gain approval without debate.

Perkins came out in support of the school in Facebook posts this week.

"As a Black man, as my mother's son, my wife's husband, and my daughter's father, I cannot support anything that diminishes legitimate access and opportunity for women and people of color," Perkins wrote. "I stand ready to welcome the Girls in STEM Academy to our vibrant neighborhoods."

Even if it's approved, the Girls IN STEM Academy will not open at the Michigan Road site this fall due to renovations. Instead, it will open temporarily at the Hasten Hebrew Academy. That site is north east of the Michigan Road location.

Paramount already has permission to open Girls IN STEM. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately managed. They are granted a contract to operate by one of several authorizers in the state. Last year Trine University, a private institution in Angola, authorized the all-girls school.

Contact WFYI Marion County education reporter Sydney Dauphinais at


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