Bart Peterson took office as mayor of Indianapolis in 2000 and quickly won the right to authorize charter schools--the first mayor in the country with that
authority. That caught my attention in 2001, so I visited the mayor and his talented aides David Harris and Ellen Quigley. Harris ran the mayor’s charter
school office (which won Harvard’s Innovations in American Government Award); Quigley went on to serve as Deputy Mayor.
Unlike the charter free-for-all in some states, Harris moved carefully to ensure quality. They approved a few schools and saw favorable early results. But
he recognized the need to build and import talent and school models to bring quality to scale. To pull that off, Harris launched The Mind Trust 2006 with Mayor Peterson as board chair.
Inspired by talent development shops like Teach for America and charter networks like KIPP, Harris deployed his core insights in a way that has became a national model. As the Bay Area became an ecosystem of
innovation, The Mind Trust’s founders wanted to cultivate in Indianapolis a similar climate of talent, creativity and boldness - one focused on improving
education. Following is a recap of the five strategies and a few highlights:
1. Recruiting the top national organizations:
Teach For America has 104 corps members
The New Teacher Project has 51 teaching fellows
College Summit serves high school students
Stand for Children has 8,200 supporters
2. Launching new initiatives:
The Education Entrepreneur Fellowship has helped to incubate groundbreaking new initiatives like Summer Advantage USA, which has 1800 Indianapolis
Scholars. Individuals with the most promising plans for transforming education receive $250,000 over the course of two years to launch their
organizations in the city.
The Mind Trust has created a robust network of 16 organizations--seven homegrown and nine recruited--that have transformed Indianapolis into a national
hub of education innovation.
, a Mind Trust incubated startup (featured on Getting Smart), is a network of 28 city-based foundations and nonprofits that work together to support education
innovation and reform” launched in 2010, with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Joyce Foundation. The network was created “to ensure that cities around the country have local
institutional champions that drive the education reform agenda forward,” Executive Director Ethan Gray said
in a 2011 interview.
3. Incubating world-class schools:
The Charter School Incubator offers $1 million awards to entice the nation’s best school-leadership teams to create or expand networks of world-class
schools in Indianapolis. The Mind Trust recruited KIPP, top elementary operator Rocketship
and K-12 operator KIPP.
The other two Incubator winners to date include Christel House, a standout Indianapolis charter that is growing into a network of K-12 and dropout
recovery schools, and the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies, a new network of blended learning schools launched by well-known education
entrepreneur Earl Martin Phalen
The goal is 15 to 25 world-class charter schools serving more than 12,000 students, by 2020.
4. Scaling up the highest-impact efforts:
In 2011, Mind Trust launched Grow What Works, a three-year $18 million fundraising campaign.
In supporting high impact organizations, The Mind Trust, according to the Star, “has done what might have seemed impossible not so long ago: convinced
people that while it won’t be easy or fast, the potential to turn around an urban center’s struggling education system is real.”
5. Developing and advancing bold policies:
The Mind Trust proposed a dramatic overhaul of the city’s largest school district, Indianapolis Public Schools
(IPS) to create the conditions that will attract more of the nation’s best teaching and school leadership talent to the city.
The plan, “Creating Opportunity Schools,” may be the nation’s
most comprehensive urban-district overhaul plan.
In 2012, four reform-minded candidates were elected to the board, leading the Star and other observers to conclude that change in IPS is
likely, and that such change could include some of the elements of the “Creating Opportunity Schools” report.
In just six years, The Mind Trust has established itself as the driving force for improvement and innovation in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star has described The Mind Trust as “at the center of the reform movement in Indianapolis” and credits the nonprofit for “single
handedly chang(ing) the tenor of the debate surrounding the city’s schools and (bringing) an army of education talent to Indianapolis.”
is the second 6-12 school in the expanding network modeled after the famous Yuma blended school. They explain “Indianapolis
was selected as our first expansion site because of the area’s extensive educational reform efforts, acceptance by the state board of our request for the
approval of six charters, business support and partnership potential to include financial and student internships, as well as community support for quality
education and educational choice.”
, a flex plus model supported byConnections Learning, will open in September. The school will share a floor with the Glendale Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, the country’s first full-service library in a
major shopping mall. Renovation is already underway: knocking down walls to create Nexus Academy’s unique open campus design.
STEM & EdTech.
National STEM curriculum provider Project Lead the Way (PLTW) moved to Indianapolis last year with some
encouragement from Gov Daniels and Superintendent Bennett. With 400 participating schools, Indiana is the largest PLTW state (but will soon be overtaken by
growth in CA & TX). Half of the 90 employees work in Indianapolis. [Watch for a Friday announcement and feature on PLTW.]
The Innovation Portal, a PLTW initiative, is a STEM portfolio that scores and stores engineering design and
project-based work so that universities can consider authentic student work in their admissions process.
is an inclusive website by and for the autism community where Michael Leventhal conducts a weekly program about technology for autism.
Indy is home to two online higher ed innovators:
delivers online healthcare education in partnership with leading hospitals.
aggregates and distributes digital textbooks and course content
Gov. Daniels embraced WGU Indiana, the online competency-based university, as another state supported school.
The cluster of innovation in Indianapolis has been spurred on by the work of The Mind Trust,Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation, the Indiana Charter School Board, and the Indiana Charter School Association
together with the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), which has made Indy one of its target cities. “WFF
recently held interviews with prospective charter school grantees at the ICSA offices in the beautifully converted Clemens Vonnegut Public School #9 (yes, that’s Kurt’s
great-grandfather) on the edge of the city’s hip, artsy Lockerbie neighborhood - a potent symbol of how Indianapolis is managing to weave together its
quirky past and vibrant future through a focus on education,” according to a charter leader.
The Mind Trust is not only a national model; it is having a national impact. AsJoe Ableidinger andBryan Hassel noted in a Smart Cities feature, “Through its blended-learning and other reform-focused
activities, CEE-Trust connects some of today’s smartest cities--including existing blended-learning leaders and
education technology hubs, and others poised to join them in creating, implementing, and supporting the next wave of high-quality blended schools and
The core insights that Harris and Peterson formed six years ago around the importance of importing and developing talent and models, scaling high-impact
efforts, and advancing bold policies has formed the new formula for smart cities.
Connections Education and K12 are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners
The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.