Indianapolis Awards First Charters

Published February 1, 2002

After taking two months to review the 21 applications received last October, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson in early December gave the go-ahead to two community organizations and two corporations to create the city’s first four charter schools.

The two community organizations selected are notable in that both have been frequent critics of the existing public school system. As the editors of The Indianapolis Star pointed out, they “are risking their own futures by undertaking charters.”

“If they succeed, they’ll have cemented their credibility when discussing education reform,” stated a recent Star editorial. “But if they fail, few within or out of the educational system will listen to them.”

Focus on Technology

Christel House Academy, which will offer technology-based education to just 72 elementary school students, will be operated collaboratively by philanthropist Christel DeHaan and Sabis Educational Systems. DeHaan launched the education reform group Project E in May 2000 to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of K-12 education in Indiana.

The Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, a strong proponent of school choice, will operate the 21st Century Community School in an historic downtown building currently occupied by the Indiana Business College. GEO is the first public policy advocacy organization in the country to apply for and receive a charter.

Like the one-room schoolhouse of the nineteenth century, the foundation’s charter school will bring together multiple age groups, but it will enhance individual student learning by making use of the information technologies of the twenty-first century. Each student will have a laptop computer, and the first task of each day will be to check email.

“The fundamental goal will not be that students learn how to use technology, but that students learn, using technology,” stressed GEO Foundation President Kevin Teasley. “Equipping the factory school of yesterday with the technology of tomorrow has been generally unsuccessful in producing students prepared for tomorrow,” he added. “We need a new model for the twenty-first century.”

The downtown location was chosen to make the school more readily accessible to all students in the city, and the school’s transportation plan includes using community centers as common pick-up and drop-off areas. The proximity of the school to downtown also provides unlimited career exploration opportunities with mentors, apprenticeships, and partnerships with business, the arts, government, and local universities.

“Our charter school is the first and only charter approved in Indiana that is not using an education management organization and is not a converted private school,” noted Teasley. “We will be locally controlled and managed.”

To get the school started and funded through its first semester, board members of the 21st Century Community School are providing significant start-up capital, and the GEO Foundation also has raised significant funding for initial operations from other local foundations. The charter school board has hired veteran Indiana educator and entrepreneur John Hayden to run the school. Hayden worked as a successful public school teacher and principal for 21 years before embracing the private sector to start a small private school.

Organizations representing Indiana’s public school superintendents have been less than enthusiastic about the creation of charter schools. Two superintendents have threatened to ban the hiring of student teachers from Ball State University if the college grants any charters. In addition, an organization representing 32 of the largest school districts in the state has called for a moratorium on charter school approvals because the districts don’t want to lose state funding for students who transfer to charter schools.

For more information . . .

For more information on charter schools in Indiana, visit the Web site of the Charter School Resource Center of Indiana at