By Stanley Robinson
Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative, with its large cultural footprint and mammoth presence over the religious landscape of Indianapolis, will eventually have two new public schools in the traditionally underserved area where the church’s main campus is located on Indianapolis’ east side. The Mind Trust, a local education nonprofit, is working with the church on this effort.
Rooted School Indy, part of a charter network, will open a high school at the church, and Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative is working with The Mind Trust to launch a middle school for seventh and eighth graders. The targeted launch dates for those schools are 2020 and potentially 2022, respectively. As a charter school, Rooted School Indy has a charter approved by the Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation. The middle schools has components that still need to be finalized such as establishing a name and identifying a leader. It’s also too early to know the exact structure of the middle school.
The schools will represent an expansion of The ROCK Initiative’s education component. Eastern Star developed the initiative as a way to help the community in areas such as financial literacy and housing. The church already has a deep relationship with Arlington Woods Elementary School #99, which is located directly across the street from the church. Components of that partnership include Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative providing school uniforms, technology and summer meal programs.
“We don’t believe that you can enhance a community and not have some kind of educational thrust to that,” said Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star.
According to IndyVitals, which measures demographic data at the neighborhood level, the Arlington Woods area has a poverty rate of 39%, about 14% higher than the greater metropolitan area. About 45% of students were enrolled in a public school rated A or B by the state in 2018, slightly lower than Marion County as a whole.
Eastern Star Church has a conference center with enough space for Rooted School Indy, which will start with a ninth grade class and add a grade level each year. The school is part of New Orleans-based Rooted Schools. The successful model of Rooted is why it won the Charter School Design Challenge and why supporters believe it will be successful.
“Rooted’s success has the potential to transform an entire community by supplying homegrown talent to our region’s fastest-growing companies, raising the median income and improving the quality of life for students and their families,” said Rooted School Indy’s leader, Ma’at Lands, who grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and graduated from North Central High School.
Johnson said Rooted School Indy could take up the entire space available in the conference center and the church would be willing to invest in a stand-alone building for the middle school.
“We’re willing to make whatever investments we have to make in order to make it happen,” he said.
Eastern Star Church is working with The Mind Trust to launch the school. The Mind Trust will recruit a school leader who will go through the organization’s nationally-recognized fellowship program. The fellow will receive extensive training and support in developing a model and launching the school.
“We’re not sure who the school leader is going to be,” said Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, “but we’re going to do this in partnership with Eastern Star and make sure that we are helping to find a highly qualified leader that shares the neighborhood’s values and that hopefully looks like the kids they’re going to be serving.”
When the launch process comes to an end and all schools are open, students and families on the city’s east side will have access to high-quality education options from pre-K through 12th grade. Students could go to Arlington Woods — which has applied to become an Innovation Network School, meaning it will have the independence of a charter school but Indianapolis Public Schools gets credit for academic outcomes — and then advance to a middle school and high school in close proximity.
There are some examples around the country of churches starting schools and working with charter networks. Public schools can teach religion courses, but it is illegal for those schools to have a religious influence over students. With two schools set to be on or near Eastern Star’s campus, Johnson said the church will not try to sway those students when it comes to religion.
“We’re citizens of Indianapolis,” he said. “Because we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our personal savior doesn’t mean we’re no longer citizens. Our faith pushes us to operate a community.”
About Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative
Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative works to improve the quality of life in the 46218 community by:
• Building a sense of community by the people who live and work in the neighborhood.
• Enhancing the range of housing options available within a one-mile radius of Eastern Star Church.
• Growing the overall financial security of residents living in the neighborhoods.
• Enhancing both formal and informal educational opportunities available for neighborhood residents.
About The Mind Trust
The Mind Trust believes that every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, deserve access to a high-quality, world-class education. The organization works toward this goal by:
• Engaging civic leaders, families, and communities to build support for changes that give every student equitable opportunities to attend a great school.
• Providing talented educators with the time, expertise and supports to design and launch new schools in Indianapolis.
• Recruiting talent and providing schools with the individualized supports they need to attain and sustain high-quality outcomes for every student.
This article originally appeared in The Indianapolis Recorder.