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Charter school growth sees increase in Black founders, leaders

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Charter schools are changing the face of education in Indiana. There’s a growing focus on creating equity in the classroom. Trends show that in more and more instances, the leaders and founders of new charter schools are Black.

Today there are 112 charter schools in Indiana. Black students make up just under 45% of the overall student body, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Educators say representation in classrooms plays a major part in students’ success. And so far they say, the charter school model is working.

Classrooms don’t change much. There are students and there are teachers. It’s the same at Paramount Englewood charter school. But like a growing number of other charter schools, the staff and student body has a few more Black and brown faces.

“Think about my first African American teacher. It was actually in elementary school, which isn’t the case for all people,” said Principal Darius Sawyers.

Sawyers said he didn’t see his first Black male teacher until high school. He’s changing that for the students here.

“I think around the impact that we’re having here on students of color. You know I have a lot of conversations with my African American male students, specifically around what life looks like for them outside of school,” he said. “And I think it matters even if they don’t see it this way, yet I think it matters if they have someone they can identify with.”

Since the state started allowing charter schools in 2002, the number now has ballooned to 112.

Experts said the charter school environment typically brings a diverse staff and has shown improvement in education for minority students, going on to say Black students who have Black teachers are less likely to be suspended, more likely to be placed in gifted and talented programs and go to college.

“We definitely have a large amount of Black, particularly Black school leaders in school, founders that are here in Indianapolis. And are proud to have them because our Black students need to see that,” said Patrick Jones II. He’s the senior vice president of leadership and equity at The Mind Trust.

The agency has been instrumental in getting minority-led charter schools like this one going. It has supported 14 Black school leaders who’ve launched schools in Indy.

“I’ll talk specifically about racial equity. Its because we’re not 100% there. And this has been systemically present throughout the United States history,” he said.

Sawyer said while there is value in having a diverse staff, the biggest value lies in a willingness to understand culture and a willingness to adapt.

“Whether there is a staff member of color in front of students or a Caucasian staff member in front of students, that piece of being open to who are you serving.”