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The Tindley Model

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Compared to many of their peers, Natalie James and Trevor Goodall actually look forward to going to school.

Anyone who meets them is likely to be struck not only by their eloquence, intelligence and professional demeanor, but also their enthusiasm for getting a good education.

James and Goodall give the credit for that drive to the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, where they have been able to not only set higher expectations for themselves, but also meet them.

“They challenge us in a good way here,” James says as she and Goodall, dressed in their neat maroon uniforms, take a break between classes.

Established in 2004, the Tindley Accelerated School is one of several charter schools that have been established in Indianapolis since the city began sanctioning them in 2001. At Tindley, rigorous academics and personal discipline are used to push students to not only graduate, but to also have the skills needed to succeed in a college or university.

Marcus Robinson, Tindley’s principal and chancellor and CEO of EdPower, the non-profit that leads Tindly and other schools, leads a staff of administrators and instructors who believe that all children are capable of doing “gifted and talented” work. That philosophy of believing that every student is capable of excellence has earned Tindley recognition for consistently high scores on ISTEP exams and a graduation rate that has reached or exceeded 80 percent each year, higher than those of many other schools in the area.

“We try to utilize the most rigorous stuff that’s available for kids’ grade level, and instead of trying to pick and choose which kids will fit that, we push that standard for all of our students,” Robinson said. “Of course, that creates a struggle for certain kids, so our answer to that is to provide great support.”

James, a senior who previously attended another charter school in her native Boston, followed by a township and regular public school in Indianapolis, values that support.

“Before coming here I never asked, ‘Am I doing my best and can I push harder?’ When I got here they inspired me to ask those questions and I realized there are no limits,” she added.

Goodall, a junior, has also had a positive experience at Tindley, having been there since 6th grade. He came from another charter school where his grades were only mediocre. Now, he consistently earns high scores.

“I guess it’s because of the rigor and structure here that I’m able to do well,” he said. “That structure is great because it’s like a family here, the teachers have well-written lesson plans and they take the time to do whatever is needed for you to succeed.”

In order for Tindley students to get their diploma, they must complete two years of college English, two years of college history, a year of college philosophy and a year of college calculus.

“Our preparation is a little more serious than getting kids ready for a university,” said Robinson, who realized that many students go without proper guidance after working with them as a former college admissions counselor. “We want to get them immersed in college training prior to them being accepted by a college or university. We push our kids hard and don’t apologize for that, because more than 50 percent of students who enter college don’t go back their sophomore year.”

Charles Tindley Accelerated School is located in the Meadows area on the city’s Eastside, a neighborhood that has been on a steady rebound from years of rising crime and economic hardship.

Currently, the school is housed in a former Cub Foods store that was supposed to help revitalize the area when it opened in 1993. However, the store closed within a year, leaving behind an eyesore that attracted crime with its dark parking lot.

“This building was vacant for 10 years and wasn’t anything to be proud of,” Robinson said, pointing to high ceilings that remain the only evidence of the building’s grocery store days. “People were seen running out carrying copper pipes and loading them into a minivan. It was a blight on the community.”

Fortunately, when the Tindley school moved into the building, it arguably led the way in ushering in a renewed revitalization effort over the next decade that has led to the development of new apartment complexes, a medical center and a YMCA.

Originally, the Tindley school was designed to serve high school level students in grades 9-12.

However, Robinson realized that kids needed to “be reached earlier” and Tindley has expanded, opening the Tindley Preparatory Academy, a middle school for boys, last year. This year The Tindley Renaissance Academy, an elementary school opened, and soon the Tindley Collegiate Academy, a middle school for girls will open. By 2015, Ed Power, the non-profit organization that operates Tindley, plans to have the original high school, two middle schools and four elementary schools operating under the Tindley template.

“Our goal is to reach the students in kindergarten and sixth grade and keep them from getting behind,” said Robinson, who calls his work at Tindley “the greatest passion” of his life.

When guests enter the Tindley high school, they will notice an orderly environment where students are polite, complete their work, come to class on time, keep their uniforms neat and exhibit positive behavior.

Still, the atmosphere is not one of rigidity or stiffness, but a caring place where teachers’ expectations are high because they know the students are capable of meeting them, and they are more than happy to provide needed guidance.

William Bain, who teaches composition classes for 11th graders, has been with Tindley since it first opened. Previously, he worked with students in various alternative school programs.

“They talked about getting kids to college, but played to their failures and made school as easy as for them possible,” said Bain. “Once they got out of high school they were on their own.”

Bain explained that he was attracted to Tindley’s different philosophy.

“We want you to go on to a great college, but we want you to be ready for it, so we’re not going to make it easy for you to get through this high school experience because it’s not going to be easy when you get to college,” he said.

Erica McGeady, a 12th grade literature teacher, believes Tindley’s approach to education best matches her own teaching style.

“I want my students to be critical thinkers, and if they’re doing that in the 12th grade here then I know they will excel in their first year of college,” said McGready, who was frustrated with the high number of unprepared freshman she encountered while working at Purdue University. “They will excel in the areas that will be difficult for most freshman students because the rigor of our courses prepares them for the sophomore level.”

Parents have also expressed appreciation for Tindley, where faculty stays in direct and frequent contact with them. Parents are required to sign progress reports each week and attend various meetings throughout the school year. They also know that teachers are readily available to respond to any concerns.

“Tindley is a great school, it is very college focused and I love that one-on-one interaction between the teachers and parents,” said Rachael Strum, who has a 13 year-old daughter, seven year-old daughter and nephew enrolled in Tindley schools.

Tindley was recommended to Strum by a friend who had a positive experience with the school. When Strum’s daughters and nephews first entered Tindley, she lived in Noblesville and worked in Anderson, but the school ended up being such a good fit academically she was more than happy to make the long drive to get the kids to class then head to work.

Strum appreciates that Tindley offers separate middle schools for boys and girls, citing the distractions that often occur when both are in the same classrooms during their pre-teen and early teen years.

She noted that Tindley places such a heavy emphasis on secondary education that its classrooms are named after colleges and universities. Her daughters are in classes named “Dartmouth” and “Spelman,” while her nephew is in one named after DePauw University.

“We were watching college football and my nephew was like ‘that’s my school, DePauw!,’” Strum said, laughing. “Already, my daughters and nephew are looking forward not just to high school, but to college, because higher education is already being ingrained in their head.”

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