Purdue plans high-tech Indianapolis charter high school

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor, has a problem: not enough Indianapolis Public Schools students graduate with the skills to thrive at his school.

His solution? Open a charter school in Indianapolis that can serve as a direct pipeline delivering more well-qualified IPS students to the West Lafayette university.

Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School will offer its students advanced science, technology, engineering and math skills, Daniels said. Opening in 2017, it will be a free public charter school open to anyone.

“IPS has an incredibly tough assignment,” Daniels said. “The rate of progress is slow. We think there’s an obvious need for it.”

IPS students who graduate Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School will be guaranteed enrollment at Purdue if they choose to go to college. Those that don’t continue in school will graduate with industry certifications that qualify them for high-paying jobs directly out of high school.

Purdue will seek approval to open up the school, serving grades 9 to 12, from Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s charter school office. As a charter school sponsor, Ballard oversees more than 35 charter schools.

The idea could also help Purdue address one of its weaknesses: too few low-income and minority students.

The university in the past has struggled with its low enrollment of students who are African American, Hispanic or belong to other minority groups. At the same time, Purdue has the second-highest international population of any U.S. public university, primarily supported by students from China, India and South Korea.

Daniels said all American universities are facing the challenge of diversifying their student body.

“The question’s on everybody’s mind,” he said.

Classes at Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School will be taught by both Purdue professors and high school teachers, Purdue Polytechnic Institute Dean Gary Bertoline said. He said that he hopes that the school’s environment will inspire students to think beyond high school.

“That’s one of the unique aspects of the school,” Bertoline said. “We want to build a culture where graduating from high school is not the end. You have to go beyond high school.”

During freshman and sophomore years, students will use problem- and project-based learning to solve real-world science and math challenges. In junior year, students will choose a specific pathway to learn new skills and earn college credit or industry credentials. In senior year, they will work at internships.

The school will rely heavily on industry partners, Daniels said, for internships and mentoring. The philanthropic foundation USA Funds has committed a $500,000 grant to support the school.

“We expect a lot of partnerships,” Daniels said. “Businesses are very excited about their own employees becoming tutors and mentors.”