Indianapolis: Mind Trust Develops The Smart Cities Formula

Bart Peterson took office as mayor of Indianapolis in 2000 and quickly won the right to  authorize charter schools–the first mayor in the country with that authority.  That caught my attention in 2001, so I visited the mayor and his talented aides David Harris and Ellen Quigley. Harris ran the mayor’s charter school office (which won Harvard’s Innovations in American Government Award); Quigley went on to serve as Deputy Mayor. Unlike the charter free-for-all in some states, Harris moved carefully to ensure quality.  They approved a few schools and saw favorable early results.  But he recognized the need to build and import talent and school models to bring quality to scale. To pull that off, Harris launched The Mind Trust in 2006 with Mayor Peterson as board chair. In part because of that, Indiana earned a B- on the most recent edition of the Digital Learning Now Report Card. Inspired by talent development shops like Teach for America and charter networks like KIPP, Harris deployed his core insights in a way that has became a national model. As the Bay Area became an ecosystem of innovation, The Mind Trust’s founders wanted to cultivate in Indianapolis a similar climate of talent, creativity and boldness – one focused on improving education.
Following is a recap of the five strategies and a few highlights:
1. Recruiting the top national organizations:

  • The Mind Trust has invested $12 million to recruit Teach For America and TNTP to Indianapolis and to grow their presence in the city. Together those high quality human capital organizations have brought 635 talented teachers to Indianapolis classrooms.
  • The Mind Trust also invested in the Indianapolis launch and growth of College Summit, which has served more than 8,400 high school students since 2008, and Stand for Children, which has 8,200 supporters.

2. Launching new initiatives:

  • The Education Entrepreneur Fellowship has helped to incubate groundbreaking new initiatives like Summer Advantage USA which has 1800 Indianapolis Scholars.  Individuals with the most promising plans for transforming education receive $250,000 over the course of two years to launch their organizations in the city.
  • The Mind Trust has created a robust network of 17 organizations–eleven homegrown and six recruited–that have transformed Indianapolis into a national hub of education innovation.
  • CEE-Trust, a Mind Trust incubated startup (featured on Getting Smart), is a network of 28 city-based foundations and nonprofits that work together to support education innovation and reform” launched in 2010, with support fromCarnegie Corporation of New York andThe Joyce Foundation. The network was created “to ensure that cities around the country have local institutional champions that drive the education reform agenda forward,” Executive DirectorEthan Gray said in a 2011 interview. In January 2014, CEE-Trust spun off from the Mind Trust and is now a standalone nonprofit.

3. Incubating world-class schools:

  • The Mind Trust’s Charter School Incubator offers awards of up to $1 million to entice the nation’s best school-leadership teams to create or expand networks of world-class schools in Indianapolis. The Mind Trust recruited top elementary operator Rocketship and invested to help KIPP expand in Indianapolis.
  • The other Incubator winners to date include Christel House, a standout Indianapolis charter that is growing into a network of K-12 and dropout recovery schools, and the George and Veronica Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA), a new network of blended learning schools launched by well-known education entrepreneur Earl Martin Phalen. As of May, the percentage of students who were on track in math grew from 3 percent to 51 percent in math and from 33 percent to 88 percent in reading.
  • The Mind Trust also awarded $250,000 through the Incubator to Tindley Charter Network, an Indianapolis-based network of high performing, no-excuses charter schools, to double the size of its all-girls middle school in Indianapolis.
  • The goal is to launch 15 to 25 world-class charter schools serving more than 12,000 students, by 2020.
  • In April 2014 The Mind Trust announced its third incubator, the Innovation School Fellowship, designed to equip talented leaders to launch high quality, autonomous schools within Indianapolis’ largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). The fellowship, launched in partnership with IPS and the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office, leverages a law passed during the 2014 Indiana Legislative Session that enables the district to contract with excellent school leaders and management teams to start new schools – called Innovation Network Schools – that will have access to district resources, including buildings, but by contract will operate independently from IPS’ Central Office. Importantly, Innovation Network Schools are not subject to IPS’s collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union.
  • Through its Innovation School Fellowship, The Mind Trust will select leaders to start Innovation Network Schools and equip them with the time and support needed to ensure the schools’ success. Fellows will receive a full salary and benefits ($129,000 in total) so they can spend a year planning their schools’ design and rollout, as well as key support from local and national experts in planning the design and launch of their new schools, opportunities to visit and learn from top schools from around the county, and office space at The Mind Trust and access to its resources.
  • Eighty-six candidates submitted applications for The Mind Trust’s first round of awards.

4. Scaling up the highest-impact efforts:

  • In 2011, Mind Trust launched Grow What Works, a three-year $18 million fundraising campaign.
  • In supporting high impact organizations, The Mind Trust, according to the Star,  “has done what might have seemed impossible not so long ago: convinced people that while it won’t be easy or fast, the potential to turn around an urban center’s struggling education system is real.”

5. Developing and advancing bold policies:

  • In 2011, The Mind Trust proposed a dramatic overhaul of the city’s largest school district, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) to create the conditions that will attract more of the nation’s best teaching and school leadership talent to the city.
  • The plan, “Creating Opportunity Schools,” may be the nation’s most comprehensive urban-district overhaul plan.
  • In 2012, four reform-minded candidates were elected to the board, leading the Star and other observers to conclude that change in IPS is likely, and that such change could include some of the elements of the “Creating Opportunity Schools” report.

Since The Mind Trust’s launch seven years ago, their relentless focus on empowering talented people to transform their city’s public education system has established The Mind Trust as the driving force for improvement and innovation in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star has described The Mind Trust as “at the center of the reform movement in Indianapolis” and credits the nonprofit for “single handedly chang(ing) the tenor of the debate surrounding the city’s schools and (bringing) an army of education talent to Indianapolis.” Through their Charter School Incubator, The Mind Trust has launched or expanded five world-class charter school networks in Indianapolis. Additionally, they have helped to launch seven break-the-mold education nonprofits in the city through their Education Entrepreneur Fellowship. And now, The Mind Trust is creating its third incubator–the Innovation School Fellowship–which will allow for more high quality, autonomous schools within Indianapolis’ largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools. The Mind Trust’s Innovation School Fellowship will maximize the power of a historic law that passed during the most recent legislative session enabling IPS to contract with successful school leaders and management teams to start new schools, called Innovation Network Schools, in vacant or underused IPS buildings or in place of persistently low-performing schools.
Cool Schools. Carpe Diem-Meridian is the second 6-12 school in the expanding network  modeled after the famous Yuma blended school. They explain that “Indianapolis was selected as our first expansion site because of the area’s extensive educational reform efforts, acceptance by the state board of our request for the approval of six charters, business support and partnership potential to include financial and student internships, as well as community support for quality education and educational choice.”
Nexus Academy, a flex plus model supported by Connections Learning, will open in September. The school will share a floor with theGlendale Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library, the country’s first full-service library in a major shopping mall. Renovation is already underway: knocking down walls to create Nexus Academy’s uniqueopen campus design.
Hoosier Academies Indianapolis, powered by K12, which serves K-12 through an “enriched virtual” blended model.
Virtual schools include Indiana Connections Academy and Indiana Online Academy. Indianapolis Public Schools offers 21 magnet schools.  They are looking for their next superintendent–let’s hope they hire someone that embraces the emerging portfolio.
STEM & EdTech. National STEM curriculum providerProject Lead the Way (PLTW) moved to Indianapolis last year with some encouragement from Gov Daniels and Superintendent Bennett.  With 400 participating schools, Indiana is the largest PLTW state (but will soon be overtaken by growth in CA & TX).  Half of the 90 employees work in Indianapolis. The Innovation Portal, a PLTW initiative, is a STEM portfolio that scores and stores engineering design and project-based work so that universities can consider authentic student work in their admissions process. Autism Brainstormis an inclusive website by and for the autism community where Michael Leventhal conducts a weekly program about technology for autism.
Higher Ed. Indy is home to three online higher ed innovators:

  • Orbis Education delivers online healthcare education in partnership with leading hospitals.
  • Courseload aggregates and distributes digital textbooks and course content
  • Gov Daniels embraced WGU Indiana, the online competency-based university, as another state supported school.

A hub in the foundation world, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is home to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Conclusions.  The Mind Trust has continued its focus on policy work. This year the organization has worked with a bipartisan and diverse group of 16 community leaders to tackle two longstanding education challenges facing the city – the underuse of school facilities in the city’s largest district and low-income families’ lack of access to affordable pre-K. Leading the group –named the Lewis Hubbard Group — are Maggie Lewis, President of the Indianapolis City-County Council and Indianapolis’ highest-ranking Democrat, and Al Hubbard, a successful businessman, former Assistant to the President for Economic Policy/Director of the National Economic Council during George W. Bush’s administration, and former Indiana Republican Party Chairman. Their focus on the facilities underuse issue has captured the attention of the public and several civic and community leaders, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who cited the group’s research in remarks introducing his 2014 legislative agenda.
In just six years, The Mind Trust has established itself as the driving force for improvement and innovation in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star has described The Mind Trust as “at the center of the reform movement in Indianapolis” and credits the nonprofit for “single handedly chang(ing) the tenor of the debate surrounding the city’s schools and (bringing) an army of education talent to Indianapolis.”
Connections Education and K12 are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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