IPS board president: Mind Trust broke the rules on $100,000 fellowships

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Heather Tsavaris, Marlon Llewellyn, Lauren Franklin and Earl Phalen (left to right) were the winners of The Mind Trust's $100,000 innovation school fellowships in 2014.

Indianapolis Public School Board President Annie Roof said Wednesday The Mind Trust broke a written agreement by choosing three $100,000 fellowship winners without getting enough input from district officials.

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform group, announced in May that it would fund up to nine more “innovation fellowships” over three years, jointly selecting educators to develop new school reform plans with the goal that the IPS board could select the best ones to help turn around some of its most troubled schools.

But that’s not what happened, said Roof, who was one of two IPS board members on the joint selection committee. The program could even dissolve if IPS withdraws its support.

“They did not uphold their end of the (agreement) which leaves me concerned about this contract,” Roof said. “I’m cautious to continue.”

David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust, said in a statement that his organization stands by the process it followed to select the fellows.

“We’re fully comfortable that we followed the process we set out for selecting innovation school fellows, and we’re happy to continue working with the district to refine that process,” Harris said. “We’re now focused on equipping the innovation school fellows to start high quality schools that will provide excellent educational opportunities for students within IPS.”

The three fellows will each earn $100,000 this year to develop and implement their own ideas for how to create a successful public school. If IPS approves their ideas, they could open a new school as early as next fall.

But Roof and board member Gayle Cosby, who was also on the selection committee along with Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, city officials and others, said  they were shocked to find a pool of only four people to choose from for three fellowship spots. The expected to review closer to half of more than 60 who applied. The Memorandum of Understanding the board signed with The Mind Trust states that the district will work “in consultation with IPS … to review fellowship application(s).”

“My understanding before heading into the process is that we would be allowed to review a summary or a broad view (of candidates),” Cosby said. “To only be invited to review the final four selections … was a bit concerning. The field was very narrow.”

Roof also argued the three winners were never actually endorsed by the district, as required by the agreement.

Heather Tsavaris, a former federal counter-terrorism official, Lauren Franklin, principal of IPS School 56, and a team of Earl Phalen and Marlon Llewellyn were chosen as the fellows. Phalen is the founder of an Indianapolis charter schools and Llewellyn has been a school administrator for public and charter schools.

“When we left that day, the committee as a whole was under the understanding that we didn’t come to a conclusion of any candidate,” Roof said. “We walked away thinking that we were going to reconvene in a year and try this again. I felt kind of blindsided in a couple days when they announced the candidates. I read it in the newspaper.”

Roof informed board members of her concerns Wednesday at a school board committee meeting.

“My signature is on it,” Roof said. “As president of the board, it’s my job to make sure the contract was upheld, and it wasn’t.”

Board member Caitlin Hannon, who was not at the meeting because she is not on the committee, which was formed to evaluate future partnerships with charter schools and others, said she is enthusiastic about the fellowship program and she stressed that the district ultimately has control over who opens a school.

“Our place of control is in determining the actual contract for the people who will run the actual school,” Hannon said. “That makes me comfortable.”

Ferebee told the board that he also was not given the opportunity to review more than four fellowship finalists. He suggested a meeting to find a solution.

“My recommendation is to just to be fair and give them an opportunity to respond,” Ferebee said.

Other board members said they were also concerned about how the process unfolded and uncertain about the future of what was supposed to be a three year partnership with The Mind Trust investing up to $900,000 to develop ideas it hoped could help improve IPS schools.

“If we don’t talk about that now, we don’t move forward with the next piece,” Arnold said. “This is a great opportunity and we might get some wonderful (ideas) to help our kids. I don’t want to say we don’t want to play.”

Roof was reluctant, but said she would agree to a meeting.

“The situation would give me pause,” Roof said. “I’m not against the partnership or people wanting to do things for IPS. It’s our job to make sure IPS is making good decisions.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”