Innovation in Indianapolis Builds Stronger Schools

The city is serving students better by giving more autonomy, flexibility to educators

When Mariama Carson launched Global Preparatory Academy in 2016, it marked the culmination of years of hard work – and the realization of the Indianapolis educator’s dream to teach children in both English and Spanish.

Global Prep is a dual-language program serving a student population that is majority-minority and predominantly from low-income communities whose families are attracted to the opportunity for a bilingual education. It’s also an Innovation Network School within Indianapolis Public Schools, which gives Mariama and her team more flexibility and autonomy to find creative ways to best serve their students.

Within a year of restarting an existing public school, Riverside 44, that had received an F grade on the state’s report card, Global Prep – teaching the same students – received an A grade and had doubled the percentage of students passing math and English/Language Arts tests.

“We focused on building a positive culture,” Mariama says. “We were clear about expectations and what it means to be a student in an excellent school.”

Mariama’s early success with Global Prep would not have been possible – indeed the school itself might not ever have opened – without years of collaboration and innovation among community members, elected officials and policymakers and education leaders in Indianapolis.

Facing longstanding challenges to deliver a strong education to students, particularly those from low-income neighborhoods, the city responded by enlisting the help of new partners and innovators.

Not only has Indianapolis welcomed new charter schools, but it has placed greater autonomy in the hands of many educators – like Mariama – to launch innovative district schools.

“Some of our biggest accomplishments include the expansion of high-quality options for families, aggressive intervention in our lowest-performing schools and replication of our highest-performing programs. We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve student outcomes,” says Dr. Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

Global Prep is a case in point. Mariama got the idea for a dual-language program as an elementary school teacher who was interested in setting her own educational strategy for her students.

She turned to The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis nonprofit that works to recruit and develop education innovators and launch high-quality charter schools and charter-like district schools.

We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to improve student outcomes.
Dr. Lewis Ferebee, Superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools

Mariama received one of The Mind Trust’s fellowships, which provided her the resources and time to develop the vision for Global Preparatory Academy. She visited strong immersion programs nationally and even worked at an immersion school in Mexico City. All this experience eventually informed the culture and curriculum foundation at Global Prep.

“Going out on my own was a very scary process – I couldn’t have done it without The Mind Trust,” Mariama reflects. “They helped introduce me to my board of directors and to financial support in the community, and helped put options and possibilities in front of me.”

The Mind Trust’s fellowships have empowered a range of entrepreneurs to create new educational options since it was founded in 2006.

The Walton Family Foundation has supported The Mind Trust since 2011 and has been investing in Indianapolis since the city’s charter school law was passed in 2001, fueling the growth of many of the city’s charter school operators and Innovation Network entrepreneurs through startup grants.

“By giving our school leaders the autonomy to implement the creative and innovative ideas they feel best meet the needs of their students, IPS is building an optimal environment to foster achievement and cultivate rewarding opportunities for our students and families,” says Dr. Lewis Ferebee.

Mariama says the district has been “very open to listening” to new ideas and perspectives on how to meet students’ educational needs.

At Global Prep, students learn core material in both English and Spanish. Many teachers are native Spanish speakers hailing from Spanish-speaking countries.

Ann Foisy, whose daughter, Claire, is a student at the school, says she has been impressed by the school’s mission and is excited about her daughter learning a second language.

As a parent, Ann says she feels welcome to observe classes and is impressed to see her daughter’s teachers get down to students’ eye level as they work through Spanish lessons.

“I want [Claire] to be part of a real community that’s representative of the real world and really builds her character.”