Less than a year since Indianapolis Public Schools closed three high schools due to shrinking enrollment, multiple charter organizations seek to open 9-to-12th-grade schools in and around Center Township next year.
The pitch: both schools are designed to be high performing, yet unproven, models that would offer students a better education than IPS or established charter schools.
Emphasizing the unproven results, board members questioned both school leaders how they would boost academics of low performing students and get them promised results of college credits, job credentials or high education enrollment.
Kenneth Riggins, Board Chairman, says the applicants will face the same challenges as IPS: attracting and retaining students and operating with available state funds.
"We are just hopeful that trying something different will be successful -- that is the idea behind it," Riggins says of the board's authority to approve new schools. "My goal is to make sure they can financially support themselves, that they are not going to leave students stranded and to make sure they are going to be making progress."
Charter schools are publicly funded schools operated by private entities and are defined as public schools under Indiana law.
The New Orleans-based Rooted School is proposing a Far Eastside high school that would focus problem-solving style curriculum, group work and small class sizes. Ma’at Lands, a former Lighthouse Academies assistant principal, and North Central graduate, would be the school leader.
Rooted’s proposal calls for starting with 60 students in 9th grade and adding a grade level each year and eventually enroll 240 students.
Board members questioned how the school would have enough resources to support students who are behind grade level with such few students. In Indiana school funding is based on per-student funding.
“I’d like you to be able to explain to me how you are going to do it,” Riggins, the board chair, said before asking for the answer at the next board meeting. “What are you doing to do if 82 percent of a class is behind?”
Jonathan Johnson, Rooted School’s Founder and CEO, received $250,000 from the Mind Trust as part of the group’s Charter School Design Challenge. The goal of the grant was for Johnson to replicate the first Rooted School in Indianapolis.
That New Orleans school opened in 2017 and currently serves grades 9-10. Only one year of academic results is available. It is rated a B by the Louisiana Department of Education.
Johnson says he needs to raise around $1.1 million before the school would open for the 2020-21 academic year.
Believe Circle City
The proposed Believe Circle City high school would focus on students earning college credits before graduation and spending time at local colleges as early as their 10th-grade year.
“Our goal with the new school is to change the approach with educating high school students,” said school leader Kimberly Neal. “We want an increase on autonomy and agency.”
Neal says there will be a focus on soft skills for students to get and retain a job after graduation, with a credential, or be ready for a two- or four-year school.
Students, Neal said, should have completed Core 40 graduation requirements before they start attending high education classes off-site.
“I think it is a needed curriculum," board member Pam Hickman says. "I am always worried that our students are not being prepared for college or a job.”
A year ago Neal was named as part of The Mind Trust’s fifth cohort of Innovation School Fellowship. Fellows earn a stipend plus benefits over the course of their fellowship.
Neal previously was at KIPP:DC as the managing director of secondary education and a middle school principal. Earlier she founded Muchin College Prep which is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago.
Believe Circle City’s board chairwoman is Taylor Brown, Teach for America-Indianapolis’s chief program officer. Brown’s husband is Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust. Taylor Brown says the board will be transparent about any real or perceived conflict of interest that could arise.
Believe’s proposal calls for starting with 100 students in 9th grade and adding a grade level each year and eventually enroll 465 students after seven years.
A location within the IPS district has not been named yet for the school.
The Indianapolis charter school board will vote on the schools June 27.
The Indiana Charter School Board also held a public hearing for GEO’s Next Generation Academy Tuesday.
GEO Academies, an Indianapolis-based charter operator with schools in Gary and Baton Rouge, LA, wants to open in Warren Township with a performing arts theme and emphasis students college credits. School leaders hope to attract 750 students.
The state charter board will meet May 14 to vote on GEO’s charter application.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistated the amount of salary Mind Trust fellows recieve.