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New leader aims to keep school, students growing: More businesses support private north-side institution

October 15, 2007

What began in 1994 as a six-room schoolhouse with 38 students has grown into a three-building campus with 602 pupils.

The growth of the International School of Indiana, which welcomed a new headmaster this year, has been possible because of increased support from an expanding flock of businesses. They believe in its mission: to help attract scientists and executives from around the world to this community by providing a global education for their children.

Before the school opened, recalled Eli Lilly and Co. CEO Sidney Taurel, "most [scientists] came for the short term at the start of their career. The educational opportunities then were not sufficient to draw longer-term, higher-level international people."

Taurel was among a group of local business leaders that in 1991 recommended starting an international school to help Indiana compete in the global marketplace.

It opened on the Butler University campus and moved in 2004 to a newly built, $22.5 million campus on Michigan Road. The school accepts children as young as age 3 for a pre-kindergarten program, and continues through high school. Families choose Spanish or French as their language component and students are taught in that language through grade five.

The launch was a big undertaking. But within five years, the International School was meeting, or close to meeting, most of its objectives, such as building enrollment to 300 and operating in the black.

"It was managed on a tight budget," Taurel said.

Even today, financial pressures remain. Expenses outpaced revenue about 13 percent each of the past two years, in part because about $700,000 a year is earmarked for scholarships.

David Garner, the new headmaster, isn't worried.

"What you see on paper is not always a true reflection of the business," he said. "We don't have the money from alumni coming in yet." Indeed, students from the school's first graduating class of 2004 are barely in their 20s.

While the bulk of the school's revenue comes from annual tuition of about $12,000, the school collects $750,000 a year in contributions. Its initial capital campaign, which closed three years ago, raised $17.5 million.

The school may kick off another campaign to fund a consolidation and expansion; it's at capacity for students and spread across two locations on Michigan Road. It also wants to add arts and sports facilities.

As Taurel anticipated, the school has been popular with Lilly employees. About 50 of the company's workers send 70 children there, said Taurel, whose daughter began as a first-grader. She now attends Indiana University.

Today, 30 companies provide support to the school, which boasts test scores far above state averages. The average SAT score for the 2006 graduating class, for instance, was 1806, while the Indiana average was 1493.

"When the bar is set too low, there's no challenge," Garner said. "Kids at other schools don't perform as well because they're not made to."

Garner, 55, comes with impressive credentials that include a master's degree in applied linguistics and an MBA in education management. He succeeds Alain Weber, a school founder, who left to become head of the French Lycée in Chicago.

Students succeed, Garner said, because they're taught using the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a rigorous program recognized by the world's leading universities. It's the only school in the Midwest to offer that program for all its high school students.

Because proficiency in another language is crucial, total language immersion occurs during elementary grades, said Garner, who speaks five languages. That means children are taught science in French or history in Spanish, for example. Once in middle school, classes are taught in English, although students continue to take courses in their chosen language.

But one parent questioned whether the school's focus on language detracts from other subjects.

"I think they needed some enrichment in English and science that they were not getting there," said Sue Ellen Braunlin, referring to her two children she withdrew from the school two years ago.

"We plan to review our balance of subjects," Garner said of Braunlin's concerns. Still, he said the school does not plan to de-emphasize the language component.
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