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Major Grant to Transform Educational Landscape in Indianapolis

$11.3 million will convert big, outdated high schools; create small, focused new ones

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jo Lynn Garing
City of Indianapolis, Mayor’s Office
Phone: 317.327-3690

Mary Atteberry
University of Indianapolis
Phone: 317.788.3310

INDIANAPOLIS -- Mayor Bart Peterson and the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis today announced an $11.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create 10 new small high schools and convert five big high schools into smaller, more effective schools. This network of schools will target disadvantaged students in metropolitan Indianapolis to help close the achievement gap and boost the number of students prepared for higher education and successful careers.

“This grant is a tremendous opportunity for us to build upon the reform momentum in Indianapolis,” said Mayor Bart Peterson. “These high-quality high schools will provide students with the personal attention and support they need to thrive in a rigorous academic environment. We’re pleased that the Gates Foundation believed in our vision to improve public schools in Indianapolis through smaller schools and smaller classrooms.”

Each of the schools funded by the grant will have 400 or fewer students and a diverse yet clear mission. The goal of these small schools will be to close the achievement gap between under-performing students and their higher-achieving counterparts, while improving students’ post-secondary options – whether college, technical training or the working world.

“In today’s demanding economy, it is inherently unjust for us to allow so many students to leave high school without the tools they need to lead successful, productive lives,” said Ray McNulty, program director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “When we engage students in small, focused high schools and provide them with both a rigorous education and close adult relationships, we are giving them – and our country – the promise of a better future.”

The 10 new schools will be located in Marion County and could be public, private or charter schools.  The grant also will help Indianapolis Public Schools transform all five of its big high schools, which average more than 1700 students each, into smaller learning communities. All school districts, including IPS, will need to apply for the grants and meet rigorous application requirements. CELL, who partnered with the Mayor’s Office to apply for the grant, will administer the grant application process.

“This opens the door for imagination and creativity in designing small schools that will have relevancy for the students who historically haven’t been served by traditional high schools,” said U of I President Jerry Israel. “It is an incredible opportunity for this city.”

Like the rest of the country, Indiana has a persistent achievement gap between its white and minority students. While nearly three-fourths of the state’s white students graduate from high school, just 55 percent of its African-American and Hispanic students do, according to a Manhattan Institute report. A study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that the lowest graduation rates in the country are concentrated in high schools of 900 or more students with a high percentage of non-white students. Students, particularly those who are already struggling, can easily get lost in large, impersonal high schools where teachers see more than 150 students a day.

“Some students do fine in large high schools, but too many fall through the cracks,” said E. Lynne Weisenbach, acting executive director of CELL and dean of the School of Education at the university. “The idea of creating small high schools, whether they are housed within a school or set apart at another site, holds great promise for Indianapolis students.”

The initiative builds on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s nationwide effort to improve the graduation and college-going rates, particularly among African Americans and Hispanics, by making high schools stronger and smaller. In small high schools, students take challenging, interesting courses and have the opportunity to develop close relationships with their teachers and other adults.

In Indianapolis, the small schools will all be characterized by a high level of self-governance, personalized instruction and counseling, high expectations, connections to the community and a commitment to data-driven improvement. All of the schools will be research-based and results-oriented.

“IPS committed to converting our large high schools into Small Learning Communities two years ago, and to date we have found tremendous success with our ninth-grade Freshman Families,” said Superintendent Duncan N.P. Pritchett, Jr. “IPS is eager to fully institute Small Learning Communities this fall. Our students, parents, staff and School Board are excited about the possibilities this grant can create for our youth.”

The grant enables CELL to develop a Network of Effective Small Schools to support these institutions through sharing of current research and extensive, ongoing professional development. The network also will serve as a resource and catalyst for education reform throughout Indiana and the United States.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is building upon the unprecedented opportunities of the 21st century to improve equity in global health and learning. Led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, the Seattle-based foundation has an endowment of approximately $24 billion.

CELL, a catalyst for school improvement, was created in 2001 with a $15 million grant from Lilly Endowment. Its mission is to significantly improve K-12 education by providing research-based data, training and resources to classroom teachers, principals, parents and school board members.

For the past several years, Mayor Peterson has been one of Indiana’s most outspoken supporters of charter schools legislation. He first indicated his support for charter schools as a candidate and has testified numerous times before the state legislature. The legislature rewarded his efforts by passing a
state charter schools law in April 2001, which made him the first mayor in the nation to have the authority to charter schools.

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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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