Mind Trust fellows plan two new Indianapolis charter schools

An academy infused with Latino culture and a school focused on closing learning gaps plan to open in Indianapolis in 2022, joining the city’s expansive roster of charter schools.

Monarca Academy, for grades six through 12, and Liberty Grove Schools, for kindergarten through eighth grade, won approval from the Indianapolis Charter School Board this week. The mayor’s office will oversee both schools.

Monarca hopes to start with up to 300 middle schoolers, and annually add high school programming. Liberty Grove hopes to enroll up to 500 K-8 students. Neither school has secured a facility, but Monarca plans to open in northwest Indianapolis and Liberty Grove is targeting the west side.

Charter School Board members grilled the applicants on their educational models and financial plans in a three-hour virtual meeting before voting unanimously to grant each school a seven-year charter.

“The pressure’s on,” board member Rubin Pusha told applicants after they gained approval. “You’ve got to be ready to deliver.”

The executive directors of both Monarca and Liberty Grove are innovation school fellows of The Mind Trust, an influential nonprofit that has shaped Indianapolis’ charter school scene. The fellowship pays up to $100,000 a year for two years and provides training to help fellows plan a sustainable model for an innovation school.

The new charters will apply to join Indianapolis Public Schools’ innovation network, hoping to either take over an existing IPS school or open a new facility supported by the district. Approval would ease the charters’ financial burden, allowing them to lean on IPS’ existing facilities, one-to-one technology, and student body instead of starting from scratch.

If not accepted, both executive directors said they would pursue other options, such as leasing a building or sharing a facility with another school or organization.

Throughout the meeting, board members pressed the applicants for specifics on how they plan to recruit diverse teachers, which both schools’ applications noted as a priority, in a state facing a teacher shortage. They also asked if the schools can’t join the IPS innovation network, how they plan to attract enough students to be viable. In addition to traditional public schools, Indianapolis already has about 65 charter schools.

While open to everyone, Monarca Academy is specifically tailored for students who are Latino, English language learners, or immigrants. The school model will focus on addressing learning disparities for Latino and Black students and preparing students for college.

Students will learn Spanish and Latin American performing arts like salsa dancing and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that mixes gymnastics, dancing, and music. Monarca Academy will expect every student to take an AP Spanish exam.

“I could see the next Lin Manuel Miranda coming out of this,” said Monarca Executive Director Francisco Valdiosera, an educator for more than 20 years who has worked at multiple IPS schools.

Monarca’s cultural approach enthused board members, but they warned Valdiosera not to alienate non-Latino families in the school’s recruitment process and curriculum.

“The community where you’re going to be is more than just Hispanic and Black,” said board member Marco Dominguez.

Liberty Grove Executive Director Morrise Harbour said he wants his charter to provide quality education in an area of Indianapolis that needs more options. In Eagledale, the west-side area south of 38th Street and west of Lafayette Road where Harbour plans to establish his charter, only about one-fifth of middle schoolers attend a school in their neighborhood, according to Liberty Grove’s application.

“It’s a void, and we want to start filling that void respectfully,” said Harbour, who recently moved to Indiana after working at a charter school network in Washington, D.C.

Liberty Grove will focus on addressing learning disparities, helping students catch up in areas where they’re behind while still providing grade-level instruction. The charter’s application described its desired culture as “warm but firm,” and Harbour said the school will push students academically while supporting them emotionally.

“You may have a student that’s significantly behind, but celebrating that student goes a long way,” he said.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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2 thoughts on “Mind Trust fellows plan two new Indianapolis charter schools

  1. Reminder – search Stemnasium to see the corruption that was approved and funded – twice – by the same handlers behind these schools (lawsuits, financial troubles, questionable academic credentials). Tariq Al-Nassir (connected to RiseIndy, The Mind Trust, Stand for Children … all corrupt disruptors) lied about his credentials and was hiding fiscal irresponsibility. Now they continue to push damaging education policies with total disregard for parents and taxpayers.

    Neither of these two experimental school models are fulfilling a need for our community. The City’s OEI is government duplication that should be eliminated to save taxpayer money. Why is our city running schools? They are struggling to run police services and protect the community – and some of the growing violence by youth may be tied to the growth of charter schools (worth a look). OEI is not improving schools. Voters should make the school districts work for the communities they serve. Period. If it takes regime change at IPS, I’m all in for that.

    Monarca Academy isolates Latinx students by design and is, actually, segregationist. It disengages immigrant students from the community at large. This is a private school model that should not receive taxpayer funding. Integrating Spanish-speaking students into neighborhood schools is the most effective way to address the whole child and the entire community…reducing crime and violence by connecting citizens to where they live instead of a silo education businesses across town or wherever. These schools actually decrease social engagement.

    The Liberty Grove school model is going to address disparities? That’s the mantra and mission for every school – nothing special about this. And anytime you hear the words “quality education” run … it’s marketing-speak that does not deliver on that promise when what kids need to be prepared for the world is a well-rounded education. How lame of this OEI board to approve these schools that don’t even have a location yet (public schools soon to be closed for this). The OEI Board should be disbanded for its business-only model for public schools. Filling a geographic hole for middle school students is the only benefit this school offers to the community … and IPS should be held accountable for addressing student needs where they live. That’s the job. If the Supe doesn’t do the work, she should be fired … along with all the embeds in the district office who are perpetrators of this crime against community.

    It is also ironic that Liberty Grove is using a geographic neighborhood argument for their approval considering that Brandon Brown of The Mind Trust (that you can’t trust) espouses and has actively engaged in the breakup and closure of neighborhood schools for privately-run, taxpayer-funded schools that don’t actually perform any better and make the community worse off.

    It’s a big, continuing money grab based on heavily-marketed deceptions. And it runs through several interconnected corrupt channels to bought-off politicians who are more interested in filling their campaign coffers than delivering on the education promise we deserve.

  2. As long as the schools get equal funding they are okay. No one complains when majority-white schools get funding, so this is 100% fair—as long as the schools get funded just like the white schools. Just. Be. Fair.