Mind Trust awards $1M grants to KIPP, Rocketship

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The Mind Trust has agreed to give $1 million each to two California-based charter school networks that plan to open a total of 12 schools here in the next seven years.

San Jose-based Rocketship Education plans to open eight K-5 schools in the city between 2015 and 2020, enrolling 4,000 students.

San Francisco-based KIPP Foundation plans to add four additional schools to the middle school it already operates here, creating a K-12 network with capacity for 2,500 kids.

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform group, selected Rocketship and KIPP out of more than 30 applicants for its $1 million grants.

The two winners will also receive non-financial help from The Mind Trust through its charter school incubator, which it launched in 2011 with $2 million in funding form Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.

“We started our Charter School Incubator to create more schools in Indianapolis that are truly transformational—schools that help students, regardless of circumstances, achieve outstanding results,” said Mind Trust CEO David Harris. “Rocketship and KIPP are two of the best charter school operators in the country, and we’re thrilled that our incubator helped entice them to grow schools in Indianapolis.”

Both organizations already had planned to grow in Indianapolis before they applied for The Mind Trust grants. Rocketship applied for approval to open eight charter schools from the Indiana Charter Schools Board in 2011.

KIPP outlined its growth plans nearly a year ago when it was a finalist but not a winner in The Mind Trust grant competition.

Rocketship and KIPP are the second group of charter schools awarded large grants by The Mind Trust. In 2012, The Mind Trust picked Indianapolis-based Christel House Academy and Boston-based Phalen Leadership Academies to receive its $1 million grants.

Phalen plans to launch five K-8 charter schools in Indianapolis, each enrolling about 900 students. Christel House plans to build a second campus of a K-12 school and a school for high school dropouts, in addition to the one it has on the south side of Indianapolis.

The Mind Trust funding has been one of several factors spurring several charter school organizations to replicate into numerous locations. Since the first charter schools opened in Indianapolis a decade ago, most organizations have operated just one or two schools.

Rocketship, which has been heavily recruited by numerous cities around the country, likes to open enough schools in one city to have a critical mass. The not-for-profit can replicate schools more rapidly because its heavy reliance on computer instruction allows it to employ about 20 percent fewer teachers.

But Rocketship’s “blended learning” model also has proven highly successful at helping large numbers of students from impoverished backgrounds achieve above-average results on state standardized tests.

In California, about 90 percent of Rocketship’s students are classified as economically disadvantaged. But 82 percent of its students are proficient in math and a similar portion are proficient in English.

“The Mind Trust’s Charter School Incubator really caught our attention as we seek to partner with local innovators who are committed to rethinking elementary school from the ground up,” said Rocketship CEO Preston Smith in a prepared statement. Rocketship will open schools in Milwaukee and Nasvhille before it starts operations in Indianapolis.

For KIPP, the new schools are nothing new. It is the largest charter school organization in the country, with 136 schools nationwide.

But its venture into Indianapolis did not go well at first, with the school posting dismal results until a turnaround effort began in 2009. A reconstituted board of directors led by Jason Kloth, who is now Ballard’s deputy mayor of education, and then by local venture capitalist David Mann, brought in Teach for America alumna Emily Pelino to lead the school.

In the past year, KIPP earned an A rating from the Indiana Department of Education and Pelino handed the reins to Aleesia Johnson so that Pelino could focus on adding more schools here.

“It’s very exciting for us as a school, to be able to think about being able to impact students earlier,” Johnson said about KIPP’s plans to add two elementary schools. KIPP will also add a second middle school and, in 2020, a high school.

All five schools will be on the east side of Indianapolis.

Some traditional public school leaders have criticized The Mind Trust’s aggressive support of charter school expansion. Former Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White accused the Mind Trust of trying to “flood” his districts with charters.

But The Mind Trust has received funding for its incubator from Eli Lilly and Co., The Walton Family Foundation, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, the Dave and Jessica Lindsey Family, and Mind Trust board member Jane Pauley. The Mind Trust plans to give more charter school grants in the next few years.

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