Co-Creating a Community Vision for Student and Family Success
This story is part of our Celebrating Education Innovation series leading up to our fall fundraiser. These stories highlight the progress, innovation, and impact of Indianapolis charter schools over the past 20 years from the perspectives of parents, school leaders, and community partners.
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By Barato Britt, President/CEO of Edna Martin Christian Center
Mention the phrase “Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood” to someone who lives elsewhere in Indianapolis or the surrounding suburbs and they likely won’t have much context or knowledge for the area. I know the neighborhood I am blessed to serve rates as a hotspot, though not in the positive sense. It doesn’t show up on Trip Advisor. For too long, it hasn’t received the respect and investment it has deserved throughout its storied history.
That is not to say it is without assets. Among them is the Edna Martin Christian Center, a place I have had the honor and privilege to lead for a number of years. The Edna Martin Christian Center is a full-service community center that has operated in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood for more than 80 years. For the past 11 of those years, we have partnered with KIPP Indy Public Schools. Our partnership began with providing after-school opportunities for middle school students and has expanded in concerted and strategic ways since.
Partnership Informed By Community Needs
Edna Martin’s services overlap throughout the entire K-12 KIPP Indy network and contribute to the broader community strategy for the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. Here you have two entities that have been very purposeful in creating a larger footprint in Martindale-Brightwood. Community impact comes from having not just high-quality educational options at all grade levels, but is reinforced and complemented by family services that offer the holistic, wraparound support we know students and families need to achieve success.
Our partnership, from the start, has been aligned with the broader community quality of life strategy. Residents and community stakeholders have long talked about the importance of having strong supportive services matched with a strong education network. People who live in this community don’t want to be forced to leave it to access a great education. So Edna Martin and KIPP Indy have rallied around that call to provide a great education and the support necessary for families to have great options right next door.
The Importance of Partnership For School Success
I really believe schools, in and of themselves, can’t be the be-all, end-all. They can’t transform communities on their own, particularly areas that have suffered from the impacts of systemic racism and disadvantage. But when a school purposefully partners with its neighborhood and local community organizations, it embraces the notion of collective ownership. It lets us view community progress from an asset-based lens, recognizing that the school can be one of a host of interlocking organizations that combine resources and efforts to improve the landscape.
Martindale-Brightwood is on a very positive trajectory. That was not inevitable and it starts with the level of school collaboration and the template we’ve created.Barato Britt
Schools that attempt to operate as islands miss out on the assets of the community. Great schools are such an important value add. But I would encourage school leaders not to think the community they serve is bereft of assets. If nothing else, every neighborhood is filled with incredible human capital.
Martindale-Brightwood is on a very positive trajectory. That was not inevitable and it starts with the level of school collaboration and the template we’ve created. I strongly encourage schools in communities like ours across Indianapolis and even the state of Indiana to really think about meaningful and authentic engagement opportunities to include the whole neighborhood so that all residents can play a role in the development of the next generation.
How Charter Schools Create Opportunity
So how did all this become possible? I think it goes back to the introduction of charters, which stimulated the notion of choice. I’ve always believed that parents, regardless of income, station, or background, should be able to select the school they believe will serve their students best.
Now, school choice is only a good thing when you match the concept of choice with high-quality options. In Indianapolis, charters have provided that. Without KIPP Indy in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, too many of our families would not have a viable neighborhood school choice to leverage.
I’m not saying charters have been a panacea or solved every education problem our city faces. But they have introduced strong options that families can take advantage of. I’m also heartened to see the district try to maximize collective resources by partnering with the charter sector. Indianapolis may not be perfect yet, but our landscape has been able to stimulate the introduction of innovation and unique options that have benefitted families and pushed us down a path toward absolute quality.
Deepening Impact By Listening to the Community
In mentioning the impact of charter schools, I have to return to my earlier theme of the importance of community partnership. I like to say that “we” serve these students and families. Not just because Edna Martin works so closely with the KIPP network, but also because I have the honor of serving as a board member for KIPP Indy. That’s a purposeful activity that speaks to the deep connection between us. KIPP Indy has worked hard to build neighborhood trust and they’ve earned it through transparency and community involvement.
The result is that the vast majority of our students hail from the neighborhood. The community trusts KIPP will serve their students well. A good case in point is KIPP Indy Legacy High. For a long time, KIPP Indy only served students in elementary and middle grades. The high school component stemmed directly from families asking for it, saying they didn’t want to send their student outside the neighborhood once they finished 8th grade.
Everything we do, we make sure our community is engaged, informed, and has a chance to provide input…. We are moving toward a destination and a vision that was co-created and is being co-implemented.Barato Britt
“Rooted in Community” is one of KIPP Indy’s core values. The network really prides itself on being an authentic, meaningful community partner. Everything we do, we make sure our community is engaged, informed, and has a chance to provide input. No matter where the partnership between Edna Martin and KIPP Indy goes, I know our approach to the community will not change. We are not just going somewhere, driving haphazardly. We are moving toward a destination and a vision that was co-created and is being co-implemented.