Trailblazers get little room for error when the stakes are this high. In this educational environment, where terms like innovation and choice are becoming as synonymous with “public education” as traditional public schools, the fight against perception, skepticism and doubt among those fighting reform fuel these pioneers’ motivation almost as much as the students upon which they are staking their reputations.
Such is the case for the leadership and staff of the Ignite Achievement Academy at Elder W. Diggs, a new Innovation network school serving students on Indianapolis’ near West side. The product of seven years of collaboration and visioning by Co-Founders Shy-Quon Ely and Brooke Beavers, the new school is seeking to breathe new life and a new culture into a school with a rich tradition, but one that has significantly underachieved in recent years, receiving an F rating the past five years.
One of seven Innovation schools opened in partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools this school year, IAA, a mayor sponsored charter entity, represents the continued acceleration of efforts between the district, charter operators, and authorizers to reshape the way students in urban Indy access options. But for the two dynamic co-leaders, the broader effort gives way to creating a school community where genius is unleashed through the foundational components of accelerated learning, intensive enrichment, development of successful habits and full community involvement. The final component, they admit, is one that has been strengthened since their approval to operate at Diggs earlier this year.
“As we created our charter, we stuck with a vision for a long time, and we continually came back to it, knowing that we didn’t know where we would be,” Ely said. “There was this commitment though about how can wherever we go, we establish a culture that is community responsive, that’s culturally relevant. We knew our vision was intentionally incomplete. We needed our staff and we needed the community to help us refine that vision.”
Further demonstrating that commitment to community, the co-leaders efforts to engage have begun to yield fruit prior to students’ first day. IAA has implemented a staggered start. Fifth and sixth graders began school Monday, August 7 and the rest of its approximate 500 student body will begin school by August 16.
Community allies include a coalition of prominent churches in their surrounding community, the Center for Leadership Development, Flanner House, Watkins Community Park and, of course the men of Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., for whom Diggs was the principal founder. Their outreach has continued with strategic staff selection and aggressive parent outreach to further demonstrate the need for collective buy in to revive a school that will best reflect its namesake.
“We’re not here to do anything to the community, or even anything for the community, our vision is only fulfilled if we do this with our community at large,” Beavers added. “We’ve been very deliberate and intentional about the individuals we have hand-picked for this cause. We’re continuing to develop and cultivate relationships with community stakeholders so that we together can create holistic learning environments.”
Their focus is as clear as their mandate, the two readily admit and accept the scrutiny and accountability that comes with their place in an evolving public school environment. For them, the proof will remain not in how or even who brought this Innovation partnership to pass, but in the genius they fully believe will be cultivated over time.
“We have to acknowledge our naysayers because they exist,” Ely said. “Without any sarcasm at all we appreciate our naysayers and in fact at some point we will convert you; I promise you that. But we appreciate your feedback, as long as it’s about what’s best for children we encourage that dialogue.”