It wasn’t easy to step away from the traditional public school governance structure we’ve always known, but my team and I found it was necessary to build the program our students — and our community — demanded.
Cold Spring School is an environmental science magnet school that I’ve been proud to lead since 2011. Our school, located on 39 acres next to Marian University in Indianapolis, serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade with a STEM-focused curriculum. We’re proud of our curriculum and the partnership we’ve cultivated between our school and its university neighbor: their athletic teams mentor and coach our children, our students learn about the environment by helping care for the university’s garden and by taking classes in their eco-lab.
Last year, Cold Spring’s faculty and I realized that to better serve our students, we needed greater autonomy and flexibility. We couldn’t follow cookie cutter rules or we’d risk achieving cookie cutter results.
So, in a first for the Indianapolis Public School district, the faculty members at Cold Spring voted to turn our school into an innovation network school. This meant that we — as a team — would have more decision-making power and autonomy. It also meant we would have to step away from the district’s collective bargaining agreement.
This year, our first as an innovation network school, we are deepening our mentoring partnership with Marian. We are beginning to roll out special STEM camps. And we have extended our school day to increase the amount of time students spend in school-wide STE(A)M clubs like robotics, 4-H and gardening.
Cold Spring’s transition didn’t happen overnight. When we first talked about the idea in faculty and community meetings, we knew what our end goal was, but we needed to spend days, nights and weekends planning our transition. We had responsibilities we’d never had before — such as contracting out our own human resources department so that all of our employees were under our own 501c3, separate from the Indianapolis Public School district.
Leaving what we were accustomed to and transitioning to a new school governance model wasn’t always easy, but it’s working for us. 25 of our 30 teachers are still part of the Cold Spring team — embracing our school’s culture and mission with renewed energy and commitment. And our student enrollment is up by 55 students, an increase of 23%.
Being an innovation network school is helping all of us, as a community, learn important lessons about what’s possible when adults are empowered to put their students first.