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Group recruiting 'standing army' to support charters

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A new group of 40-something professionals in central Indiana is hoping to do for education reform what the amateur sports initiative did 35 years ago: spawn a generation of leaders to work on a long-term challenge.

That challenge is to start really high-quality schools that, they hope, can overcome the obstacles of poverty and broken families to help Indianapolis kids achieve at the highest educational levels.

Smith Smith

That’s why Kevin Martin, chief financial officer of Columbus, Ind.-based Johnson Ventures; his wife, Patty, a senior director for diabetes at Eli Lilly and Co.; and Rob Smith, president of the Lilly Foundation, have teamed up to launch Allies for Educational Opportunity.

The group has about 20 members so far, who are working with the Indianapolis-based education reform group The Mind Trust to help attract and support new charter schools in Indianapolis.

“Wouldn’t it be great to get a younger generation of folks to get on board?” said Kevin Martin, 47. He added, “What we’re hoping to do is engage some folks who could commit for the long haul.”

The Mind Trust awarded $1 million grants last year to help two organizations—Christel House Academy and the Phalen Leadership Academies—launch a series of charter schools. It is scheduled to award another round of grants next month.

The Mind Trust’s push to launch as many as 20 charter schools over five years has drawn criticism from some public-school leaders. Eugene White, superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools, said The Mind Trust was trying to “flood” the district with charter schools.

In the future, Allies for Educational Opportunity hopes its mission broadens beyond charter schools, to work with schools in traditional school districts. But for now, it is focused only on the charters being funded as part of The Mind Trust’s charter school incubator.

“These are very complicated problems that require adaptive leadership. They’re multi-variable. They require a community-based approach,” said Smith, 45. Smith said Lilly had this kind of group in mind two years ago, when it committed $2.5 million to The Mind Trust, including $1 million to help launch its charter school incubator.

The effort really got rolling, however, a year ago. A few days after Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl, former WellPoint Inc. CEO Angela Braly suggested to Kevin Martin that Indianapolis needed a group like the Super Bowl host committee in order to have a sustained effort to improve schools in the city.

The Martins started talking to The Mind Trust, and the project proceeded from there.

The Allies group is now trying to recruit 40-something professionals to be board members for new charter schools, and is trying to tap real estate professionals to help the schools find and finance their buildings. It also has members working to connect new charter schools with existing community organizations, businesses and universities that could help supplement their educational programs.

Longer term, the Allies group hopes to stage hospitality events for out-of-state charter-management organizations, in order to entice the best ones to set up shop here.

“It’s recruiting a constant kind of standing army,” said Patrick Herrel, vice president of education initiatives at The Mind Trust. He added, “The more we get the community involved and leaders involved in this, I think the better outcomes we’re going to see” from schools.

Martin Martin

Some of the professionals involved so far include Sherrie Bossung, head of community engagement for the Lilly Foundation; John Crisp, a principal at the Cassidy Turley real estate brokerage; Mark Hosfeld, director of industrial leasing at Duke Realty Corp.; Molly Chavers, executive director of the IndyHUB group for young professionals, Rob MacPherson, vice president for development at Central Indiana Community Foundation, and Ron Stiver, senior vice president at the Indiana University Health hospital system.

Patty Martin, 52, said the group will continue to grow, based on the needs of the charter schools and the specific projects the Allies group decides to focus on.

“What we want to do is get a handful of people that can quickly listen to these people that can come in and then get them connected with people that can provide the services,” she said.•

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  • Majority of Public Indy Schools are Broken
    If it's not broke, don't fix it. Well contrary to the above posts, the educational system is broke. I'm sure Glenda has great ideas and would probably be welcomed by this group of 'Allies', who's goal is identical to hers. Insure that Indianapolis students have the opportunity for a quality education. Don't be so quick to judge that which you do not know. I am in no way affiliated with the group yet, but would be willing to if I thought I could improve the lives of students in Indiana. Charter schools are an option and need volunteer support to provide the quality education that is currently lacking in all forms of K-12 education. Several surrounding area township schools have figured it out, but way to many school districts, (and children), are being left behind. Applaud the efforts to not accept status quo, ignore the squeeky wheel, and continue to fight for providing students a quality education, which only then will help the local economy and businesses. From a business perspective, it is difficult to attract new companies to an area where it's employees would never chose to come because of the limited educational options available for their kids. Good luck!
  • Teachers not corporations
    I am not an educator. I am a parent of two, young children. I volunteer in their school. Every time I enter the classroom I am amazed at the skill of the teacher. 25 kids under the age of 7 and two adults. The children are engaged and the teacher is quizzing them even as they line up to go to another class. And I'm not talking about one extraordinary teacher. I'm speaking of a building full of them. There is an art to teaching and inspiring children. They have been trained. My husband and I own two businesses. We know about marketing and numbers. We don't know how to be teachers. Corporations need to stay out of the classrooms and stop stealing money from our public schools via charters. When the charters fail, as they often do, the children suffer.
  • Protect Our Kids Right to a Free, High-Quality Public Education
    Indiana showed an overwhelming support (more votes than our governor) for Glenda Ritz as state superintendent of public (!) instruction. The message needs to be heard. We want our schools run by the people who know the most about education and children. If you are truly about supporting children, you will not allow our kids to get caught in a war (and I find it deeply disturbing as a mother of 4 that you make references like "allies" and "army" in this argument) between people trying to protect children's Constitutional right to a free, public high-quality education and those who would turn it into "competition" for profit. The bottom line in business is profit, the bottom line in schools is the child. We see charters open all over the country in the guise of being for children and then, when they fail to succeed, they close down. The children are left in a transition again, uprooted and scrambling for their next community. If you care about children, if you respect the state Constitution and their rights therein, you will use your resources to address poverty and its effects on kids and their families. Let the educators educate and lead us in schools.
  • Why recruit leaders when you can recruit experts?
    When was the last time anyone of these leaders actually set foot in a public school? Why recruit 40-something business leaders when education, child/family psychology, community engagement, etc. experts, those who know what does and what does not work in public schools for a child's and their family's success in school and life, could be recruited?

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