Neighborhood Visionary Project: The Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School

Screen-Shot-2012-12-03-at-2.29.58-PM-231x300It was an idea as risky as it was bold: to open Indiana’s first accelerated school—using a rigorous accelerated education model that treats all students as gifted—in an abandoned grocery store in one of Indianapolis’s most economically-depressed areas. But LISC saw promise in the vision of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School’s founders, and provided a charter school loan to help it get off the ground.

“LISC saw what we saw,” Tindley co-founder Siri Loescher said. “An opportunity to help kids get a better education in an area where it’s needed most.”

Today, the Tindley School is a model of innovation and success. Over the past eight years, it has garnered a reputation as one of America’s most successful charter schools, earning the 2010 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award, as well as the National EPIC Award from the National Department of Education. Driving its success is a simple but powerful philosophy: “College or Die.”

Marcus Robinson says the phrase is no exaggeration; “Our goal for our students, who primarily live in poverty, is not just to change their lives, but to save their lives.”

Robinson served as principal of Tindley from 2004 until 2011, when he became the chancellor and CEO of EdPower, the nonprofit that operates the school. It was his idea to paint “College or Die” in the school’s main hallway in giant, bold letters.

“The reality is, many of our students are likely to die young—whether it’s from disease, drugs, or a litany of other possibilities. And we can diminish that reality by 80 or 90 percent by getting them into college.”

By any measure, Tindley’s efforts in that regard have been startlingly successful. Since opening its doors, it has sent all of its graduates to college—many of them at such outstanding schools as Earlham, Wabash, Amherst, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon.

“Our kids are not necessarily college-bound by desire,” Robinson said. “But they are college-bound by design, as a function of coming to school here. This is what we do.”

The school’s good work has resonated throughout the surrounding neighborhood, spurring the kind of development that was originally intended by the failed supermarket it now inhabits. Currently under construction just down the street from the school is the East Village at Avondale Meadows, a 248-unit, mixed income apartment building that’s partly funded by LISC.

“Our coming here wasn’t just about educational opportunities, but also about bringing life to this neighborhood,” Robinson said. “This building was a blight, but now it’s an asset.”

Robinson gives credit to LISC for recognizing how Tindley had the power to not only transform the lives of young people, but to also serve as a catalyst for development in the long-suffering Meadows community. “LISC gave us credibility from an early stage,” Robinson said. “They played a pivotal role by giving us a recoverable grant that we desperately needed to get going in the beginning.”

And now, Tindley is expanding in ways even Robinson hardly imagined possible. An all-boys middle school, Tindley Preparatory Academy, opened last year, and a $1.6 million grant from the Charter School Growth Fund will allow EdPower to open five more schools over the next three years.

“We want to reach more kids,” Robinson said. “We want to give those children without access to what their more affluent peers have the resources to be successful, in school and in life.”