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Freshmen physics students in Rachelle Klinger’s class at Herron High School sit at tables to experiment with forces on pieces of paper.

Freshmen physics students in Rachelle Klinger’s class at Herron High School experiment with forces on pieces of paper.

Shaina Cavazos / Chalkbeat

These Indianapolis charter schools have proven track records. Now, they want to expand

With about $1 million in support from The Mind Trust, three of Indianapolis’ established charter schools are seeking to expand their local networks.

Leaders from Christel House schools, Indianapolis Classical Schools, and Paramount Schools of Excellence have been awarded fellowships worth $200,000 a year to launch new schools in the next few years, The Mind Trust announced Wednesday.

The investment reflects an interest in replicating schools “with a track record of success,” in order to improve access to high-performing schools, said The Mind Trust CEO Brandon Brown.

“You can’t only launch new schools that are really innovative,” he said. “You have to focus on the ones that are working as well.”

Indianapolis Classical Schools and Paramount had already made their intents clear to start their third schools before the fellowships were awarded. The growth of the networks are a sign of the evolution of Indiana’s 16-year-old charter scene, as charter schools with high test scores build up from single sites to small local networks of two or more schools.

Even though some area charter schools are failing to make their enrollment targets, Brown said these three networks have been in high demand from families, showing their schools can attract students from both within and outside of their neighborhoods.

“We know that we don’t have the luxury of having too many high-quality schools in our city,” Brown said.

Their expansion contrasts sharply with other charter schools that have closed, struggled with financial sustainability, or failed to achieve adequate academic results. But replication comes with its own set of problems, as proved by the money troubles that befell the fast-growing Tindley network or the now-closed Carpe Diem schools.

“Just because we’re replicating doesn’t mean we’re successful,” said Tommy Reddicks, executive director of Paramount schools, which is opening its second location this year. “Success comes from hard work.”

The first Paramount school on Indianapolis’ eastside worked its way up to A ratings from the state with top student test scores. It proved, Reddicks said, that there was a need for its community-based style of education, and that its rigorous model was serving children well.

“But the burden is on us now to replicate our success,” he said.

The Mind Trust’s charter school fellowships, launched in 2016, give school leaders one or two years to plan their schools, pursue professional development, and learn from both local and national examples and experts. The fellowships cover salary and benefits, in addition to paying for other resources such as travel to see other schools across the country. Past fellows include Katie Dorsey, who last year opened Riverside High School, the sister school to Indianapolis Classical Schools’ consistently A-rated Herron High School.

Here’s a look at the three fellows and their proposed schools:

  • Darius Sawyers will launch the third Paramount school after a one-year fellowship, a middle school seeking to be a feeder to Purdue Polytechnic High School. It will merge Paramount’s style with a “soft introduction” to Purdue Poly’s hands-on approach to science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • Carroll Bilbrey will launch a third campus of Indianapolis Classical Schools after a two-year fellowship, valued at $400,000, using the network’s classical, liberal arts model.
  • Naomi Nelson will redesign high school for Christel House schools through a two-year fellowship, with a focus on college prep. With one of the oldest charter schools in the city, the Christel House network has a long history of serving students from low-income families.