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Indianapolis Builds a Portfolio of Education Options

November 13, 2018
City leaders have taken up the challenge of improving struggling schools

Growing up in northeastern Indianapolis, Kayla Owens did well at her neighborhood elementary school.

But for Kayla and her mother, Katrina, that wasn’t good enough — Kayla needed a greater challenge. Kayla transferred to one of the city’s new public charter middle schools, and there, she quickly set her sights even higher after a visit to Purdue University.

“She loved the campus and the programs that were offered, so I told her to make sure to keep getting good grades and hopefully we could apply for scholarships,” recalls her mother.

Fortunately for Kayla and Katrina, Purdue administrators and business leaders were creating a new high school tailor-made for her ambition.

Run by former Goodwill Education Initiatives President Scott Bess, Purdue Polytechnic High School aims to prepare more of Indianapolis’ students of color and those from low-income communities for admission to Purdue’s engineering school, and for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Along with a range of other new schools that have launched in Indianapolis over the last 10 years, Purdue Polytechnic receives support from the Walton Family Foundation as part of a communitywide effort to increase families’ access to high-quality educational options.

After a year of planning under a fellowship with The Mind Trust, a civic nonprofit that supports Indianapolis’ school improvement efforts, Purdue Polytechnic launched in 2017-2018 with 150 ninth-graders. Purdue Polytechnic organizes students’ learning around design challenges presented to them by local businesses and organizations, from the Indianapolis Zoo to Subaru.

Like many other American cities, Indianapolis has been on a long journey to deliver a strong education to its students: A decade ago, fewer than half of the district’s students graduated from high school on time.

Indianapolis’ leaders are tackling this challenge by creating brand-new public charter schools, and giving more autonomy to educators who take up the challenge of improving the city’s most persistently struggling schools.

Most Innovation Network Schools were launched with support from The Mind Trust, which operates three fellowship programs to incubate new charter schools, Innovation Network schools and other education nonprofits.

Over the past decade, the Walton Family Foundation’s support for The Mind Trust and Indianapolis Public Schools has fueled the creation of new and redesigned schools.

From Left: Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, student Kayla Owens, and Dr. Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

These efforts have empowered dozens of entrepreneurs to create new educational options for students.

By fall 2018, nearly half of all public school students in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) will be enrolled in an independent charter school or an Innovation Network school.

Students in the city’s charter schools outperform their peers in traditional district schools in both reading and math.

“Some of our biggest accomplishments include the expansion of high-quality options for families, aggressive intervention in our lowest-performing schools, and replication of our highest-performing programs,” says Dr. Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of IPS.

“We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve student outcomes.”

Kayla Owens, on her first day at Purdue Polytechnic High School.

Indeed, for students like Kayla Owens, having stronger school options has been life changing.

Now a freshman at Purdue Polytechnic, Kayla plans on attending Purdue University and becoming a computer engineer. She is gaining both the knowledge and practical skills to get her there.

“Kayla has been exposed to a lot of industry settings she wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to,” says her mom, Katrina, who worked her way through four college degrees while raising Kayla.

“I’m so grateful that her college preparation is taking her beyond the academics, with the self-management and time management she’ll need to schedule courses, get there on time, adhere to deadlines and stay motivated to get the work done on her own.”

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