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Girls IN STEM Academy to open in temporary location this fall

City-County Council voted Monday, April 1, to approve rezoning the former Witherspoon Church at 5136 Michigan Road, pictured Tuesday, April 2, 2024, to be used by Paramount Schools of Excellence charter network. (Photo by Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

(MIRROR INDY) — A charter school that plans to open on the north side will first use a temporary location this fall while it prepares for the possibility of legal challenges.

The Paramount Schools of Excellence charter network secured a victory after the City-County Council voted with little fanfare Monday, April 1, to approve rezoning the former Witherspoon Church at 5136 Michigan Road to be used as a school. But CEO Tommy Reddicks told Mirror Indy that his lawyers were told early in the zoning dispute to expect further legal challenges even after gaining the city’s approval.

So while Paramount bought the church last October to house its new Girls IN STEM Academy, at least nine months’ worth of renovations are needed before the school can open. 

“We can’t start that renovation until we’re sure we’re clear of any further zoning action or court action,” he said.

Paramount leaders are adamant that they will open in August and are finalizing talks over a temporary location for their first school year.

The property boundaries of 5136 Michigan Road from a map detail by the City of Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission. (Provided Photo/City of Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission

Will the zoning battle lead to a lawsuit?

An otherwise routine rezoning request quickly became a proxy this winter for a community’s views on public education as the Washington Township school district repeatedly appealed Paramount’s requests.

Washington Township supporters said they saw rezoning hearings as their only path to opposing the proposed school after Paramount held its required public meetings nearly a year ago in a neighboring township before charter officials knew where the school would be located.

Paramount’s CEO says the network is now waiting to see whether any opponents will continue to draw out the dispute by filing a lawsuit over the city’s approval of the rezoning request.

A Washington Township schools representative did not immediately respond to Mirror Indy’s request for comment. 

Reddicks said Tuesday afternoon he has seen nothing filed yet.

“If that happens, then we’ll get back into doing our best to defend our position and let that play out,” Reddicks said. “More than anything, a move like that would be one to delay, because there’s not much else to be done.”

Other opponents of the school, meanwhile, said they were disappointed City-County Councilor Carlos Perkins, who represents the area, didn’t call the rezoning request down for discussion by the full council. That would have provided at least another public hearing to discuss the school before the council’s vote. 

They remember Perkins standing by them in a fight last year against Valor Classical Academy — a charter school affiliated with the private, Christian Hillsdale College that withdrew plans for a new location in Indianapolis after facing opposition from residents in nearby Pike Township. 

“I endorsed him and I helped run his campaign,” Pike Township Trustee Annette Johnson told Mirror Indy after the Monday meeting. “That was our last resort — to call it down so everybody could discuss it — and that’s where the betrayal was.”

Despite that, Johnson says she’s hopeful there’s still a path to blocking the school. 

Perkins did not respond to Mirror Indy’s requests for an interview Tuesday, but posted on Facebook before the vote that he is proud to welcome the Girls IN STEM Academy to his district. Supporters of the school say it brings a new approach to addressing gaps in STEM careers where only 27% of the profession is staffed by women.

“As a Black man, as my mother’s son, my wife’s husband, and my daughter’s father, I cannot support anything that diminishes legitimate access and opportunity for women and people of color,” Perkins said in a March 29 post. “I cannot and I will not support efforts that promote oppression or disenfranchisement. I stand ready to welcome the Girls IN STEM Academy to our vibrant neighborhoods.”

Girls IN STEM Academy to open in temporary location 

As the threat of legal action hovers, Paramount officials say they are finalizing plans for a temporary location to operate from for the first year of school. Reddicks said the network is in talks with Hasten Hebrew Academy, which is northeast of the Michigan Road location, and expects to have an announcement to share “within the next few days.”

He said the network is gearing up for its next big enrollment push on May 1.

Girls IN STEM Academy will be Paramount’s first Indianapolis-area school outside Indianapolis Public Schools district lines and comes as the charter network expands across the state. The network has three schools in Indianapolis and opened new locations in Lafayette and South Bend last fall.

Students move to their next class at Paramount Cottage Home, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Doug McSchooler for Mirror Indy)

The network has already opened enrollment for the new school, though Reddicks declined to say how many families so far have signed up to attend. He said the school has set a goal of serving 125 kindergarten through sixth graders in its first year and will add seventh and eighth graders over the next year for a total enrollment target of 300 students.

“Our model is very succinct in terms of what we expect in terms of academic outcomes and a classroom experience,” Reddicks said. “So, while the physical location could be enhanced in the final site, we’re completely convinced that the temporary location we have will feel authentic and provide a really great experience for kids.”

The Girls IN STEM Academy model comes in partnership with the Girls Scouts of Central Indiana, nonprofit Every Girl Can STEM and Purdue Polytechnic High School. Groups such as the Community Alliance of the Far Eastside and Alpha Kappa Alpha recently criticized the new school and the Girl Scouts, saying they are already not doing enough to serve Black girls in the city.

Reddicks said he’s aware of the distrust that lingers in the community. He lamented the political lines that had been drawn through the rezoning process and said the school is committed to attending neighborhood meetings and rebuilding relationships when the dust settles.

“Trust doesn’t come overnight, especially when there’s been strong fights against having us in there,” Reddicks said. “We’re just open to being patient and being transparent, and trying to show our neighbors that we can be good neighbors.”

Mirror Indy reporter Carley Lanich covers early childhood and K-12 education. Contact her at or follow her on X @carleylanich.