Three proposed schools hoping for approval from local charter board

The Indianapolis Charter School Board is expected to vote Thursday on applications for three charter schools that hope to open for the 2020-2021 school year, including a high school centered on workforce development for the area's technology sector.

Rooted School would prepare students to graduate with “industry grade certifications in information technology pathways,” while meeting Indiana academic standards, according to a newsletter from Hannah News Service. The first Rooted School was opened by CEO Jonathan Johnson in New Orleans in 2017. Indianapolis would become its second location.

“Indianapolis is one of the fastest growing tech scenes in the country and obviously boasts significant companies that allow us a broader employer base in order to connect our students to," Johnson said.

The school’s curriculum aligns with Indiana’s Department of Education Technical Honors Diploma, so part of each school day would include time for students to work on industry-focused projects to complete career and technical education credits.

Projects would be collaborative between Rooted’s teaching staff and the school’s local technology company partners, such as Clear Object Inc., Greenlight Guru, Viral Launch Inc. and Passageways Inc. Other aspects of company partnerships would include internships for students.

So far, those partnerships are informal because the charter hasn' yet been approved.

“They have a very upfront mission—that it's not all about getting kids into college,” said John McDonald, CEO of ClearObject, a digital services firm. “That’s different than a lot of other charter schools that say college is the only post-secondary pathway.”

The business partners do not require bachelor’s degrees for all of their employees, making them ideal candidates to work with a high school preparing students to enter the workforce upon graduation.

"We'll identify, with the companies, entry-level jobs that are available that it would typically hire a college graduate for,” Johnson said. “We'll identify what knowledge, skills and credentials are needed to be competitive in those jobs and then we'll backwards design our curriculum with that in mind.”

Johnson did not disclose a specific location for the school if its charter is approved, but he said he said he anticipated it would be on far-east side of Indianapolis.

Part of Rooted School’s mission is to provide employment and educational opportunities for students from communities with higher child poverty rates and unemployment.

"Thursday's meeting is a potentially historic one for the city in that there's never been a high school like this in Indianapolis' history that's plugging the community's most financially insecure young people into the jobs that are in demand,” Johnson said. “It's a historic and exciting opportunity in that perspective."

Rooted aims to start with 70 to 80 students in the ninth grade in fall 2020 and add one grade every year until it reaches full enrollment in 2023.

Startup funding for the school comes from a $250,000 fellowship provided by not-for-proft charter advocate The Mind Trust, as well as the Charter School Growth Fund.

“From the moment we met Jonathan, we realized that Rooted Schools could provide new, previously unavailable opportunities to students in Indianapolis,” Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, said in an email. “The combination of Jonathan's vision, leadership and innovative school model gives Rooted immense potential to transform the lives of students.”

All three proposed charter schools are involved in one of The Mind Trust’s fellowship programs, which provide funding and support before the launch of a school.

"In the charter schools sector, we've been rightfully so focused on making sure that students are ready for a four-year college that we've sometimes missed out on the opportunity to ensure they have a choice to either attend a four-year college or to be ready to go into the workforce," Brown said.

The two other charter schools hoping for approval are Believe Circle City High School, an early college and career preparatory school; and Herron Preparatory Academy, an elementary and middle school focused on liberal arts education.

The Indianapolis Charter School Board is part of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Office of Education Innovation. The board consists of nine members, six appointed by Mayor Hogsett and three appointed by the City-County Council president.

"It's a really exciting opportunity that the partnership with The Mind Trust and Mayor's Office has made a way for us to think really creatively about the community's most pressing problems, so I'm just glad that we get the chance to be part of that effort," Johnson said.

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