IPS boarding school among innovation ideas that faded

Lauren Franklin is giving up her dream of opening up a boarding school for Indianapolis Public Schools kids, at least for now.

The IPS  principal-turned-$100,000-fellowship-winner from The Mind Trust still thinks a school where kids both live and learn is a good idea. The trouble is that boarding schools are expensive.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to about it really can see the value of it and really thinks it’s a great idea,” Franklin said. “The biggest thing I keep running against is, ‘how do I pay for it?’”

Franklin’s departure means two of three school ideas conceived by the first crop of four fellows supported by The Mind Trust, an advocacy organization that has touted the ideas as catalysts to turn around struggling urban schools, won’t move ahead.

The “innovation school fellowships” were announced with great fanfare in 2014 as a way to bring new ideas for overhauling the lowest-rated IPS schools. The Mind Trust offered $100,000 and a year off to educators, from Indianapolis or elsewhere, selected by a panel that saw promise in their plans for making schools improve. The fellows then spent the fellowship year developing plans to pitch to the IPS school board. The Mind Trust committed to funding three winning ideas per year for three years.

Last year’s winners were an eclectic group: an IPS principal, a terrorism expert and a pair of charter school leaders.

Franklin left her job leading School 56 last year to take one of the fellowships, hoping to develop her boarding school concept in partnership with IPS. But now she is leaving The Mind Trust — and giving up on her innovation idea — to become principal of Crispus Attucks High School.

Heather Tsarvaris, a former U.S. counter terrorism analyst who was developing an idea to create a middle school fostering entrepreneurship, is also no longer part of the Mind Trust’s fellowship program, according to the organization. CEO David Harris said Tsarvaris’s departure had to do with a personal matter. Tsarvaris could not be reached for comment.

“Life happens,” Harris said. “We were disappointed, but we understood the personal circumstances that necessitated it.”

Earl Martin Phalen and Marlon Llewellyn’s idea to revive struggling School 103 on the East side by modeling it after Phalen Leadership Academy charter school is the one 2014 idea that’s going forward. It was approved earlier this year by the school board. The school will re-open next year with the new management in place.

The organization is forging on with more fellowships despite the losses, Harris said.

The Mind Trust is sticking with the plan to support the creation of at least nine innovation schools, which are designed to be autonomously run under IPS authority. A 2014 state law helped pave the way for the program by allowing IPS to more easily partner with charter schools and outside groups. The option for school districts to create semi-autonomous networks of schools is now slated to go statewide.

Three new fellows were named last month.

Mahmoud Sayani hopes to model an IPS school after one he ran in Kenya, with an International Baccalaureate-inspired school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Kevin Kubacki and Shanae Staples of Enlace Academy, a charter school that shares space in an IPS building, were picked to expand Enlace to a second school; and Sheila Dollaske, principal of IPS’s Key Learning Community, has plans to develop a new middle school that focuses on student and adult education.

“Different kids need different kinds of options,” Harris said. “That’s going to be hard at times. I hope we continue to push our thinking coming up with more creative ideas. It’s not as if any of us had any illusions that a boarding school would be something that wouldn’t be enormously challenging.”

Franklin said she’s more convinced than ever that Indianapolis kids would benefit from a residential school. After a few months of researching and touring high-performing boarding schools, like the SEED schools in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Miami, she can imagine such a school making a difference here.

But public boarding schools in different states have used various funding models, and in some cases planning has been tricky.

The SEED school concept initially relied on private donations, but its founders lobbied the U.S. Congress and the District of Columbia to change the education budget to allow for operating funds for boarding schools in Washington.

In Ohio, plans a public boarding school operated by the SEED Foundation and the Cincinnati school district eventually died in 2013 because of budgeting concerns. That school originally planned to get tuition support redirected from school districts plus additional money from state and federal sources.

And school officials in Buffalo, N.Y., are now exploring the question about how to pay for the concept to open a boarding school there.

Franklin said the best chance for Indianapolis might be asking the legislature to help fund a boarding school. She hopes to keep developing that idea.

“That’s not an overnight process,” she said. “I can’t run a school on philanthropy. This is really the only way I’ll be able to get an operational budget that’s something that’s long-lasting.”

Applications will be available for the next round of the fellowship program starting later this summer.

Harris said he believes news that the first fellows’ school was initially voted down last year by the school board — the decision was reversed a month later when three new board members took their seats — stymied recruiting last time.

“Fortunately, now we’re in a very different situation,” Harris said. “There’s unambiguous clear support from the district for these schools, both from the school board members and the superintendent. That’s going to put us in a different situation to recruit.”