Q&A with Innovation School Fellow Brandon House
After growing up in southern Indiana, Innovation School Fellow Brandon House began a career in K-12 education. He taught at Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) and in Wayne Township before leading a charter school in New Orleans for seven years.
The Innovation School Fellowship provides exceptional school leaders one to two years to develop sustainable educational models to launch or restart schools within center township. Fellows receive personalized coaching, resources, and training. Brandon is currently in the first year of his Fellowship.
We sat down with Brandon to discuss what motivated him to apply, what’s gone into the development of his school so far, and what innovative Indianapolis schools have inspired him during his Fellowship.
Q: What made you want to pursue a Fellowship with The Mind Trust?
A: I had always heard positive things about The Mind Trust. I knew about some of the great leaders at Global Preparatory Academy and Phalen Leadership Academies and heard about their early success. When I thought about applying, I was a school leader down in New Orleans. The first time I applied I didn’t get accepted to the Fellowship. A few years later, I applied again and this time was accepted. In my second application, I had more clarity about who I was as a leader and had been in school leadership for longer by that point. I knew what I was looking for as an instructional leader and in policies and procedures. I also better understood what my ideal school model was and could effectively communicate that.
Q: What are the foundational elements of your school model?
A: Engaged Community Schools is based around the idea of service learning. It is a project-based-learning school whose ultimate purpose is to build community leaders. In my time as an early-career educator in IPS, I constantly ran into the battle of students not being able to see their life beyond high school, sometimes not even beyond middle school. They never saw other people who looked like them doing positive things in the community or not living in impoverished households. Engaged Community Schools is about building community leaders and connecting them to already-established community leaders who share their background.
The other aspect is of course academic excellence grounded in an equitable education for every child who attends Engaged Community Schools. I’ve spent a lot of time studying Indianapolis school data and understanding who is in the city, where they come from. I think charter school leaders can sometimes get into this mindset of “This is what has previously worked for me and I’m going to push this into a school.” The Mind Trust has allowed me to see academic best practices for the Indianapolis context and given me the time, space, and tools to figure out how I can leverage those effectively in my school model in partnership with the specific community I will serve.
Q: How have your past roles as a teacher and leader informed your approach to designing your own school?
A: At the forefront is students’ perceptions of who they will be after they leave the school. That is the number one driver of the model I am creating. Every school I have taught or led in, a significant portion of the student population had a mindset of “I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow because my situation is so dire” or “There are no opportunities for people who look like me so there’s no sense in trying.” That’s where I see Engaged Community Schools coming in to address those mindsets in students and in some parents who were themselves students in the same situation.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the “who” behind our school. I believe that schools can be perceived as an exclusive place by many families. Engaged Community Schools will be a place where every stakeholder has access to the school, investment in the school, and is bought into our mission and vision. Our school will be an inviting place where community members are able to contribute to the learning environment.
Q: What schools have you visited during your Fellowship that stood out to you?
A: One school that stood out is BELIEVE Circle City. Everyone there obviously bought into their operational system. They are making the best use out of the space that they have and were smart with their resources. Global Preparatory Academy is another place where I am very appreciative of their intentionality about student growth. Some schools you walk into and you are struck by this feeling that everything they do is purely about getting kids to pass the state test. Global Preparatory Academy doesn’t ignore the test, but they place equal emphasis on growing kids in inspiring ways that triggers students’ intrinsic motivation to succeed. I can say that first hand because my kids go to Global Preparatory Academy. My wife and I made that intentional choice to send our kids somewhere they can learn and grow but don’t have to feel so worried about purely passing a test.
Q: What drives your passion for education?
A: My educational experience prior to college is my deepest inspiration for working in education. I grew up in a school district where access to excellent options was limited. I graduated high school with all academic honors, fourth in my class. At college, everyone’s educational experience was vastly different from mine to the point I felt like an outcast. I thought I had all the knowledge I needed. Yet when I talked to other students who had graduated top of their classes, I realized we had lived through completely different worlds.
When I took my college’s math entrance exam, I remember thinking it was the most ridiculously difficult test I had ever taken. I had taken calculus in high school and passed easily. After the test, I returned to my dorm room and heard other students saying how easy they thought the test had been. That disparity established for me that not all education is created equally. Therefore, my passion lies in getting everyone access to equitable education.
Q: Who on The Mind Trust’s team has been most influential during your Fellowship?
A: It’s hard to name just one. They all have different roles that they play. For example, Sonja Peters is able to give me the tactical perspective and keep me moving forward. Both Morrise Harbour and Francisco Valdiosera, who are part of my Fellow cohort, have spoken different things into me that have expanded my view of leadership. And Kelli Marshall shares my passion for Indianapolis education. We align in our thought processes a lot.
Learn more about The Mind Trust’s Fellowships.