Two new charter high schools get a boost from the Mind Trust

Indianapolis Public Schools might be losing a few high schools in the coming years, but with The Mind Trust’s support, two charter high schools could open as soon as next fall.

On Tuesday, IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee announced a three-year plan to close some high schools because of low enrollment. But the nonprofit group’s latest education fellowships seek to add two more high school options to the mix in Indianapolis.

One harkens back to classical education while the other aims to reinvent high school, replacing traditional classes with project-based study.

Riverside High School will be the second campus opened by the leaders of Herron High School, a highly sought-after charter school on the near northside known for its liberal arts curriculum. Purdue Polytechnic High School will be the first high school founded by Purdue University. Students will learn by doing projects throughout the year instead of attending traditional classes and its curriculum will focus on science, technology and engineering.

Leaders at both schools, which are set to open in the fall of 2017, recently received fellowships from the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that offers grants and support to new charter schools.

“We are in desperate need of more high-quality high school options,” said David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust. “The area I worry the most about is high schools, and so I’m thrilled that we have two schools that are focusing on high school.”

The schools could add to the competition for IPS, which is contemplating closing high schools due to low enrollment — the district has twice as many seats in its high schools as students. But there is clear demand for alternative options, and some high-performing schools such as Herron have long waitlists.

The plan is for the Purdue high school to join IPS as an innovation network school, which would be considered part of the district but have some of the flexibility of charter schools. The IPS School Board has been supportive, but it has not yet chosen a site or voted on adding the school to the network.

The Purdue high school will be led by Shatoya Jordan and Scott Bess. Both leaders come from the Excel Centers, a network of charter high schools for adults.

Bess said the new school plans on serving not only top-performing students with an interest in science but also teens who might not be prepared to attend Purdue if they went to a traditional high school.

“We are really targeting those students who might be in that middle range, who today are not thinking about going to college or maybe aren’t being prepared to go to college,” Bess said. “That can actually move the needle on increasing diversity, increasing the number of students going on to college.”

Graduates who meet the Purdue admission criteria will be accepted directly into the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. But other graduates might pursue associate degrees or certifications in well paid technical fields instead, said Bess.

The Mind Trust fellowship includes about $200,000 in funding for each school, and it gives leaders access to training, mentorship and advice from the organization.

The second new high school that will be supported by the Mind Trust fellowship is Riverside High School, which will be led by Katie Dorsey and overseen by Janet McNeal. Both educators are currently administrators at Herron.

The school will open in the Heslar Naval Armory on the banks of the White River. It will serve students from Indianapolis and the surrounding counties, with the aim of creating a school that is racially and economically diverse, Dorsey said.

Since Herron opened a decade ago, the school has expanded significantly, said Dorsey. But the current campus is out of space, and in order to serve more students school leaders chose to open a second high school, she said. The school will share the same values and focus on liberal arts.

“We have hundreds of students on our waiting list that we feel like we could be offering a really high quality education to, and we can’t do it on this campus anymore,” Dorsey said. “Can we take our model to a … second location but that has the exact same mission, vision, values and academic approach?”