All-girls charter school approved by City-County Council to open in Washington Township

former church building
The all-girls charter school Girls IN STEM Academy is planned to open in the former Witherspoon Presbyterian Church. City-county officials approved the property to be rezoned and used as a school. (Eric Weddle / WFYI)

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This article was originally published by WFYI.

An all-girls charter school was granted final approval Monday to open in the boundary of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township. The City-County Council passed a resolution to rezone 10 acres along Michigan Road for the Girls IN STEM Academy.

The approval capped a months-long public fight that pitted school choice advocates against staunch supporters of traditional public schools, and elected officials at all levels took sides on the issue — from township trustees and school board members to city councilors and state lawmakers.

In two public rezoning hearings with the Department of Metropolitan Development, those opposed questioned whether the site was suitable for a school. They also argued there isn’t a need for another charter school in the city.

But those backing the school said its mission, to increase the number of Black girls who go into STEM professions, is vital.

Girls IN STEM Academy is planned to open as a K-8 charter school with a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The school is founded in partnership between charter networks Paramount Schools of Excellence, Purdue Polytechnic High Schools, and the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. The anticipated enrollment for the 2024-25 school year is 125 students in grades K-6.

Tommy Reddicks, executive director of Paramount, said much of the pushback against the school has been politically charged.

“We really want to try to repair some of the damage that has been done from misinformation,” Reddicks said in an interview with WFYI last week. “So our quest in the next few months is to continue community conversations and try to get the truth out there to dispel some of the misinformation.”

But that may be a challenge. Before Monday’s council meeting, the Washington Township Parent Council Network criticized the expected opening of the school.

“One of the best virtues of Washington Township Schools is its diversity and inclusion of so many cultures, backgrounds, faiths, languages, and amazing children who come every day and learn from each other,” Brian Henry, council past president, said in a statement. “We believe that families in our community will continue to send their children to our schools that have opportunities far beyond what any charter school can offer.”

The Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, one of the partners in the Girls IN STEM Academy, also recently faced criticism from local organizations that say they do a poor job of serving Black girls.

Some opposed to the school hoped Councilor Carlos Perkins, who represents District 6 where the Michigan Road property is located, would ask for an additional public hearing before the council acted. But Perkins came out in support of the school in Facebook posts last week.

“As a Black man, as my mother’s son, my wife’s husband, and my daughter’s father, I cannot support anything that diminishes legitimate access and opportunity for women and people of color,” Perkins wrote. “I stand ready to welcome the Girls IN STEM Academy to our vibrant neighborhoods.”

What’s next for Girls IN STEM Academy

Last fall, Paramount purchased the former Witherspoon Presbyterian Church at 5136 Michigan Road for the school. But before it could open, the property was required to be rezoned from religious use to educational use.

Even though the rezoning is approved, Girls IN STEM Academy will not open at the site for the 2024-25 academic year because renovations will not be finished. The school will open temporarily at the Hasten Hebrew Academy, which is northeast of the Michigan Road location.

Charter schools are public schools that are privately managed. They are granted a contract to operate by one of several authorizers in the state. Paramount was granted authority to open Girls IN STEM by the charter authorizing board at Trine University, a private institution in Angola.

A charter school is directly overseen by a board that is not elected by voters. Most state funding for charters comes from per-student tuition support.

Contact WFYI Marion County education reporter Sydney Dauphinais at sdauphinais@wfyi.org.

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