Blog | August 11, 2021

Centering Decisions on Kids

The Mind Trust CEO

by Brandon Brown, The Mind Trust’s CEO

Education wasn’t originally my career plan. Truth be told, I didn’t have much of a plan as I entered my senior year at Washington University in St. Louis. But then my parents adopted my youngest sister, who is from China and was orphaned as a baby.

The adoption forced me to pause and reflect in a way I hadn’t previously. For the first time in my life, I truly considered the access and privileges that a white middle class upbringing provided me. Similar privileges would at least tangentially be provided to my baby sister through her adoptive family. On the flip side, I realized access to things like education, healthcare, and housing were being denied to millions of other kids because of the zip code they were born in and, often, the color of their skin.

My students were brilliant. That was obvious from day one.

Brandon Brown, CEO

That reflection culminated in my decision to apply to Teach For America. After a bit of a whirlwind, I found myself teaching English at Carnahan High School in St. Louis, fresh out of college. My students were brilliant. That was obvious from day one. And they had boundless potential. Yet I quickly understood they were trapped by systems that were not built to serve them, that were really only built to serve middle class white kids like myself. I knew every one of my students deserved a life of dignity and flourishing. But another piece of knowledge often overshadowed it: for decades, our leaders had consistently made decisions that made it difficult, if not impossible, for those kids to succeed. 

After teaching in St. Louis, a series of jobs in education leadership led to the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation, where I oversaw the charter schools authorized by the Mayor’s Office. My work there afforded me a systems-level perspective where I grew my understanding of the intersections between K-12, local, and state policy. I came to realize that K-12 education is a political space and will always have political implications whether we like it or not.

A highlight from my time at the Mayor’s Office was helping to secure the passage of the Innovation Network School law in 2014, which allowed for innovative leaders to apply for greater autonomy at their schools while maintaining a partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools. When the opportunity came to join The Mind Trust to lead our programmatic work and implement the Innovation Network School law, I jumped at it.

I never in a million years thought my time overseeing our Innovation Network School strategy would culminate in the chance to become CEO of The Mind Trust. David Harris was synonymous with The Mind Trust. How could he not be, having been its founder and leader for well over a decade? Yet every anxiety I had about taking the position was matched by clear opportunities to lead the kind of systems-change work that I am passionate about and that I know holds the possibility of transforming our city’s education landscape into one that truly works for kids.

Over three years into my role as CEO, I am so proud of the progress we have made and eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. We have put a real stake in the ground on racial equity, continued to provide world-class support to hundreds of educators and school leaders on an annual basis, and are launching more and more schools that are making significant academic progress and whose leadership directly reflects the students those schools serve. We also have the best team in the country—sure, I’m a bit biased—that increasingly reflects the racial background of the students we serve.

A growing number of schools are getting results and providing choices to our community.

Brandon Brown, CEO

When I think back to 2006 at the dawn of The Mind Trust’s founding, the reality is that most Black and Latino students in Indianapolis were redlined into schools based on their zip code. Their families did not have options or the freedom to do what they thought was best for their kids’ education. Fifteen years later, a growing number of schools are getting results and providing choices to our community that reflect what those most impacted by educational inequity have been demanding for decades.

Just recently I was having a conversation with my wife about where our two sons might attend high school even though that’s some time away yet, as they are just entering grade school. After some discussion, our top choices were schools that The Mind Trust supported and helped to launch. None of them existed fifteen years ago, let alone five years ago. For me, that’s a real money-where-your-mouth is moment. If I’m not willing to send my kids to the schools we launch, and I believe the same goes for everyone who works at The Mind Trust or similar organizations, then we are doing something wrong.

The Mind Trust recently launched a new strategic plan to mark our fifteenth anniversary. It’s called Advancing Educational Equity and is predicated on doubling academic proficiency rates over the next seven years with a specific focus on Black and Latino students. While that is daunting, it is no less than what our students deserve. Moreover, I believe the key test to our collective success over these coming years is the extent to which marginalized families are able to pressure our system to make courageous decisions for kids.

Every day I show up to work as CEO of The Mind Trust I sit at a desk and fire up my computer. It’s a simple enough start to the day. But it’s what surrounds my desk that really makes this morning routine special: pictures of the students I taught in St. Louis, acting as daily reminders of who this work is about. Because if we don’t center our decisions on kids, no matter what it costs us adults, we will never reach the day where every Indianapolis child has access to a school that helps them unlock their endless potential.

This story is part of a series celebrating The Mind Trust’s 15th Anniversary. Read the rest by visiting our News section.