Q&A with Dr. Tenika Holden-Flynn, Enroll Indy’s New Executive Director
Career educator Dr. Tenika Holden-Flynn recently became the newest Executive Director of Enroll Indy, our city’s unified enrollment platform. She has served as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, and most recently as the Founding Head of School for Herron Preparatory Academy.
The Mind Trust sat down with Dr. Holden-Flynn to get her perspective on why she’s excited to lead Enroll Indy, what her plans are to engage families around this year’s application, and what kind of impact she hopes to leave on our city through her leadership.
Q: What led you to get into education?
A: When I answer this question, I tend to go back to my childhood. For me, knowing I wanted to be a career educator started early. I attended private school from Pre-K up until 9th grade. Heading into 10th grade, my parents’ divorce made our money situation tighter. We had a family meeting and decided it made sense for me to transition to a public school. So, 10th grade was my first time attending public school.
Some of the class sizes were larger. Some of the academics weren’t as rigorous and there weren’t as many resources available. But what was most impactful about that experience was that there were so many people who looked like me and who were really invested in my education. They wanted me to succeed and made it abundantly clear from the moment I set foot in that school. Even to this day there are people from the high school I graduated from in Pennsylvania that check in to see how things are going. They believed in me and in turn helped me believe in myself.
Going through that experience, I really feel that students should have the best of both worlds. That means high-quality academics and people that believe in them and push them.
Q: Your education career began in Washington D.C. What were your experiences there like?
A: After high school I went to college in Youngstown, Ohio, to become a high school social studies teacher. After finishing at Youngstown State, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and that’s where I began my teaching career. I taught in public schools for five years.
During that time is when high-stakes testing got real. Students had to pass the social studies assessment to graduate. I’m really grateful for that because it helped me keep an eye on data at all times and understand where student misconceptions were happening. I helped my students achieve a 94% passing rate, which I’m really proud of. A few years into teaching I decided to pursue a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins. I completed my master’s program and shortly after became an assistant principal and eventually a principal at a public charter school in D.C.
Q: What brought you to Indianapolis?
A: After some years of school leadership out east, I was looking for something different and I had a good friend who grew up in Indianapolis who recommended Indianapolis Public Schools to me. Seeing what they were doing differently attracted me, especially related to giving leaders autonomy. That seemed groundbreaking and something I wanted to be part of. I was able to visit the city and I toured George Buck School 94 and immediately fell in love.
I got excited about all the potential I saw there. My next job was as the principal of George Buck. We did some great work there in a wonderful community. From there I transitioned to working at Herron Classical Schools where I founded and led Herron Preparatory Academy before coming to Enroll Indy.
All of my experiences in private, public, and public charter schools ground me in school choice and the idea that students should be getting the best education possible at no cost to families.
Q: What were some of the lessons you learned from leading a school in Indianapolis that you will bring to Enroll Indy?
A: One of the key things I’ve learned from being a school leader is that you have to be flexible. Every day is different as a school leader. That’s a skillset that means any challenge that comes before me I can tackle by staying calm, cool, and collected.
I also learned the importance of building a sense of community. When you’re working in schools, community among staff members is one of the most precious things. Bringing that same ethos of doing whatever possible to help students succeed is one of my goals in leading Enroll Indy.
Q: Why are you excited to lead Enroll Indy?
A: Transitioning out of a school-based role is always bittersweet. You never truly master being a school leader. Every day there’s something new to learn. I am focused on wanting to continue expanding my impact on students. When I read the Enroll Indy job description, I immediately got excited because it truly is an opportunity to impact the entire city.
Thinking about how schools are pursuing equity and the recent announcement of IPS’ Rebuilding Stronger plan, it is the perfect time to be on-the-ground with families supporting them in accessing their school options. Honestly, what makes me most excited about this role is the equity piece. Enroll Indy can help ensure every student in the city of Indianapolis is going to a school that they deserve.
Back to my school leader roots, I’m also excited to dig into our landscape’s data to address gaps in our system. I’m hoping to streamline things for school leaders to make sure they can interact smoothly with our system. I also approach this role as a parent. My daughter is currently in Pre-K so pretty soon we’ll be using Enroll Indy for her. It is such a helpful tool as a parent and I can’t wait to help our families use this tool to access their school options.
Q: What are you most excited about in these first months as Executive Director?
A: I am most excited about making connections and meeting with school leaders to get their feedback about improving the system. I also want to hear from families to get their feedback as well. Dr. Bill Murphy, who was in this role before me, did a great job streamlining Enroll Indy’s systems and processes. My goal is to take things to the next level and make it even better. Hearing school leader and family feedback is essential to making that happen.
Q: Why do you think Enroll Indy is an important piece of Indy’s education landscape?
A: Enroll Indy makes things fair. When we think about before Enroll Indy existed, only certain families in higher income brackets would go to certain schools. Enroll Indy has effectively eliminated that inequity of access. In addition, once our enrollment periods are over, we still have an open seat finder. So any family can go online and see exactly what seats are available in the school they want. Enroll Indy is all about helping families get the education options they deserve. We offer a fair playing field for families to select their top choices.
Q: What do you want parents, families, and our community to know about Enroll Indy?
A: I want parents to know that Enroll Indy is foremost a resource for families. We are here to assist them. If they want to schedule a meeting with us, we’re available by phone and are always happy to set up a meeting in-person. Please use us as a resource for all your questions related to enrollment.
If you are looking for specific programs for students, EnrollIndy.org provides information about what each school offers. The School Finder helps families discover options that fit their needs and decide if a school is right for them.
Q: What will Enroll Indy be doing to engage families prior to and during Round 1?
A: We are increasing our time in the community, and training community partners on how to use our system so that no matter the side of town, if a parent needs something, they have a convenient location to go to for hands-on support. The goal in all of this is to get as many families as possible to sign up for Round 1.
Q: What will Enroll Indy do to support parents in relation to the many changes coming from IPS’ Rebuilding Stronger plan?
A: Enroll Indy will show up for families. Some of the schools that are most impacted are where Enroll Indy will be spending a lot of time so that families know what is happening and can make informed school decisions. We plan to be around in the morning and afternoon to provide support during drop-off and pick-up times because we know those are often the most convenient times for families to interact with us. It is not up to us to tell families what is best for them. Instead, we connect families to their options based on what they say they are looking for.
Q: What role do you envision Enroll Indy playing in our education landscape 5, 10, or 15 years from now?
A: I hope that it continues to function in its same capacity. I believe Enroll Indy is doing great work and offering a needed service. But I would say growth is something I hope for. I would love to grow the Enroll Indy team and see us expand in service of families.
Q: What kind of personal impact do you hope to have on education in our city?
A: I honestly just hope that there’s an imprint of equity on all of the work that I have done. My big goal as Executive Director is to help 100% of families at every school in Indianapolis. We are trying our best to make that happen, I hope people see that equity is at the forefront.
About Enroll Indy
Enroll Indy is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2015, that provides Indianapolis families a one-stop enrollment process, school information that is easy to understand, and data to inform school improvement in Indy. They work with Indianapolis Public Schools, the City of Indianapolis, and the Indiana Charter School Board to deliver an equitable, accessible, and transparent school application process for families.