Press Releases | July 10, 2019

The Mind Trust, IPS, Mayor’s Office name new school leader fellows to design transformational school models

Indianapolis – (July 10, 2019) The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit, today announced the members of its 2019 cohort of school leader fellows to launch high-quality public schools. Geoffrey Fenelus of New York City; Eddie Rangel and Matthew Rooney of Indianapolis; and Jenn Watts and Nikki J. Henson of Indianapolis will spend one or two full years at The Mind Trust designing school models that meet specific needs of students in Indianapolis. They will join 2018 fellows Kimberly Neal and Alicia Hervey, who are completing the final year of their fellowships.

Fenelus, Neal, Hervey, and the team of Rangel and Rooney were selected for the Innovation School Fellowship, a partnership between The Mind Trust, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), and The Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation (Mayor’s Office) to attract top educators to launch and lead high-quality Innovation Network Schools. Innovation Network Schools are schools within IPS that give building-level school leaders full academic and operational freedom to innovate in order to raise student achievement. Innovation School Fellows present a full plan for their school to the IPS Board of School Commissioners for ultimate approval to become an Innovation Network School.

“This fellowship continues to prepare school leaders for our Innovation Network Schools,” said IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson. “I am excited for these diverse, well-prepared leaders to join the IPS team as we work toward giving every student an equitable education.”

Now in its sixth year, the Innovation School Fellowship has helped grow the number of Innovation Network Schools in IPS to 20 schools that serve over 9,000 students. According to a 2019 study from Stanford University, students in Innovation Network Schools are achieving 2-3 months of additional learning in reading and math.

The team of Watts and Henson will begin The Mind Trust’s Charter School Fellowship with the intention of opening an all-girls, STEM-focused, independent charter school in partnership with Girl Scouts of Central Indiana. During their fellowship, they will present an application for final approval to a charter authorizer.

“Giving great leaders the time and support necessary to succeed is an important strategy for continuing our city’s long track-record of authorizing high-quality charter schools,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. “The Mind Trust’s fellowships help ensure that the school leaders serving our students have the best preparation possible for opening their school.”

The Mind Trust’s Innovation School and Charter School Fellowships provide educators with the planning time and resources to design and launch a new school. In addition to salary and benefits, The Mind Trust gives fellows access to an extensive network of local and national experts, professional development experiences, community engagement training, and the opportunity to travel to and learn from the nation’s best schools.

“Over the past five years, The Mind Trust’s school leader fellowships have continued to empower talented, diverse educators to launch schools in Indianapolis,” said Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust. “We could not be more excited for our new fellows to join our city’s growing movement to build a system of schools that gives every student access to a great education.”

The new fellows are:  

Geoffrey Fenelus – Innovation School Fellow

Geoffrey Fenelus plans to lead a K-6 school committed to creating an experience where master educators, families, and community partners collaborate to empower each student to reach their unique potential. His school model aims to develop well-rounded students through a rich, deep, and rigorous curriculum that intentionally develops students in Academics, Arts, Athletics, and Character Education. In addition to experiencing a rigorous academic curriculum, students will take art classes and experience physical education every day at every grade level.

Fenelus has served in numerous school leadership roles in the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Red Hook neighborhoods of New York City. He most recently served as turnaround principal of PAVE Red Hook Middle School following school leadership experiences at Success Academy Bronx 1 Middle School and Bushwick Ascend Middle School. He is a graduate of Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy and holds a certification in Teaching Urban Adolescents with Disabilities from the New York State Department of Education, an Master of Science in Education from Long Island University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Wheaton College.

Eddie Rangel and Matthew Rooney – Innovation School Fellows

Eddie Rangel and Matthew Rooney will launch an elementary school informed by best practices of high-performing district, district-turnaround, and public charter schools across the country. Rangel and Rooney will spend their first year training with current and former school leaders known for their expertise in research-based curricula, data-driven instruction, and robust systems for developing and supporting teachers and leaders. During the first year of their fellowship, Rangel will participate in the prestigious Leverage Leadership Institute at Relay Graduate School of Education and Rooney will participate in the Relay National Principals Academy.

Eddie Rangel has spent his career serving students in Indianapolis. He most recently served as a principal for Tindley Genesis Academy, where his students achieved a 19-point gain in Math and 14-point gain in English/Language Arts ISTEP passing rates, the highest growth of all Marion County public charter schools. He previously taught in IPS and Redlands Unified School District. He is a graduate of the Relay National Principal Academy, a 2014 Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and an alumnus of Teach For America. He holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from Marian University and a Master of Education in Public School Building Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Matthew Rooney currently serves as Principal of Democracy Prep Harlem High School in New York City, where he has helped 100 percent of his students earn acceptance to at least two four-year colleges and earn New York Advanced Regents Diplomas. Before serving in school leadership at Democracy Prep, Rooney taught at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle in Indianapolis and as a Fulbright English Teacher in the Republic of Korea. Rooney is a native of Indianapolis and a graduate of Ball State University.

Jenn Watts and Nikki J. Henson – Charter School Fellows

Jenn Watts and Nikki J. Henson will launch Every Girl Can STEM, an all-girls, STEM-focused K-8 school that seeks to address the underrepresentation of women, especially women of color, in STEM careers. The school will utilize a rigorous, STEM-focused curriculum and partner with Girl Scouts of Central Indiana to create opportunities for outdoor learning at nearby Girl Scout Camp Dellwood and the Girl Scout Leadership Experience.

Jenn Watts will serve as Executive Director of Every Girl Can STEM. Watts most recently served as Director of Policy for the Indiana Department of Education and managed the development of Indiana’s first statewide STEM Strategic Plan with the Indiana STEM Advisory Council, which included the Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Previously, she served as National Security Director for the Presidential Personnel Office of President Barack Obama and in several roles in strategic communications. She is a graduate of Fordham University.

Nikki J. Henson will serve as school leader for Every Girl Can STEM. She is an accomplished educator with over 20 years of experience in Indianapolis education and previously served as Principal of New Augusta South Elementary School in Pike Township. She has also served as Principal of Sand Creek Elementary School in Hamilton Southeastern Schools and in leadership positions at Crooked Creek Elementary School, Westlane Middle School, and Nora Elementary School. She holds an M.S. in Education Administration from Butler University and a B.S. in Elementary Education from Alabama A&M University.

The returning fellows are:

Kimberly Neal – Innovation School Fellow

Kimberly Neal will launch BELIEVE | Circle City (BELIEVE) in the fall of 2020. BELIEVE is an early college and career preparatory high school that combines accelerated academic achievement, student agency, and student autonomy to create a dynamic environment where students are empowered to live in their purpose. BELIEVE received charter authorization from the Mayor’s Office in June 2019.

Alicia Hervey – Innovation School Fellow

Indianapolis native Alicia Hervey will launch The PATH (Purpose, Achievement, Talent, Heart) School in the fall of 2020, serving students in grades K-8. The PATH School will provide a purpose-driven, culturally responsive learning environment that challenges students academically while supporting their social and emotional growth. The PATH School has received charter authorization from the Mayor’s Office.

In addition to the above mentioned Innovation School Fellows, The Mind Trust is supporting the launch of Herron Preparatory Academe, Christel House Academy High School, Wildflower Schools, Sankofa School of Success, and Rooted Schools.


About The Mind Trust

The Mind Trust is an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit that works to build a system of schools that gives every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, access to a high-quality education. The Mind Trust does this by building a supportive environment for schools through policy and community engagement, empowering talented educators to launch new schools, and providing existing schools with the supports they need to hire world-class talent and achieve excellence. Since 2006, The Mind Trust has supported the launch of 29 schools and helped place more than 1,400 teachers and school leaders in Indianapolis classrooms. More information can be found at