Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.

A well-educated population is critical to the vitality of Indianapolis and the continuing global competitiveness of the city and our state. Unfortunately, too many K-12 students in Indianapolis do not demonstrate proficiency in core academic subjects such as math, science and reading. In 2019, for example, only 28 percent of Marion County 3rd through 8th graders earned a passing score on both the math and English language arts sections of the statewide assessment, ILEARN. In addition, employers report that they continue to struggle to identify a sufficient supply of skilled talent to fill available job openings.

In 2015, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation added Education as one of our grantmaking focus areas and adopted the following two goals:

  1. Improve academic outcomes for Indianapolis students, from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade, by supporting the conditions necessary to grow the supply of high-performing schools and programs.
  2. Minimize the workforce skills gap in Indianapolis by supporting the delivery of cost-effective post-secondary education and training programs that align with the demands of America’s knowledge-based economy.

There is strong evidence to support the benefits of high-quality early childhood education, especially for our most vulnerable students. That is why the Foundation’s Education grantmaking priorities begin with supporting the design and implementation of highly effective Pre-Kindergarten programs serving low-income children. Since 2018, the Foundation has awarded grants totaling more than $700,000 to Early Learning Indiana and Ascend Indiana to design and implement a new approach to growing the pipeline of high-quality early childhood educator talent. This innovative effort gets to the heart of one of the biggest barriers to recruiting an effective early learning workforce: ensuring teacher candidates gain the preparation they need to excel – at an affordable cost.

A second grantmaking strategy for the Foundation is to strengthen the conditions most likely to result in a K-12 system that provides a robust set of high-performing school options for Indianapolis students and their families. To help achieve this objective, the Foundation awarded $6 million to The Mind Trust between 2015 and 2019. The Mind Trust serves as a catalyst for education innovation in Indianapolis, and our funding supports the organization’s efforts to grow great schools, recruit quality school leaders, and increase community engagement. The Mind Trust is a longtime Fairbanks Foundation grantee, and has received grant funding from the Foundation totaling $15.7 million since 2006.

Another key strategy is our focus on attracting, retaining and developing great teachers and school leaders. The evidence is clear and compelling: principals and teachers have a profound impact on student learning and academic outcomes. The Foundation’s focus on talent is exemplified through our support for three initiatives. First, the Foundation has awarded $1.75 million since 2016 to support the participation of Indianapolis school leaders in the Relay National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF). NPAF trains current and aspiring principals and principal supervisors to become instructional and cultural leaders. Areas of emphasis include learning how to analyze student data and effectively support teachers.

A second example is the Foundation’s support for Marian University’s design and launch of its Educators College, a new model to more effectively train teachers. The College’s approach reflects best practices from high-performing countries around the world, such as rigorous content training coupled with hands-on experience beginning as a first-year student, culminating with a one-year clinical residency. Since 2016, the Foundation has awarded $2.65 million to support the College. Finally, the Foundation has awarded $2 million to Teach For America (TFA) over the past four years. This funding supports TFA’s efforts to grow and diversify the teacher workforce serving Indianapolis students, especially in hard-to-staff subjects such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

To address our goal of minimizing the workforce skills gaps, the Foundation selectively supports post-secondary and career preparation models that align with the needs of employers. As part of this strategy, in early 2019 we awarded a $250,000 grant to New America to convene private and public sector stakeholders in Indiana and facilitate the design of an employer-led, coordinated statewide system of high-quality youth apprenticeship experiences. This effort includes the development of a blueprint to pilot youth apprenticeships in Marion County.

Organizations implementing these innovative initiatives are redefining education, but in order for new programs to make a positive impact on the lives of students and adults, community stakeholders must be kept informed about their education and training options. To support some of this communications work, the Foundation awarded UNCF a grant of $269,700 over two years to support community engagement efforts regarding the Indianapolis K-12 education landscape.

Since 2015, the Foundation has awarded grants totaling more than $20 million to organizations working to improve education and workforce training outcomes in Indianapolis. Here is a complete list of Education grants awarded by the Foundation since 2015.

While we know there are no easy answers when it comes to ensuring students succeed in school and adults receive the necessary training to meet the needs of employers, we remain optimistic that positive change is possible because of the dedication of so many individuals and organizations working to address these critical issues. We are grateful for the educators, Foundation grantees, and numerous other local and state partners working tirelessly to ensure Hoosier children and adults receive the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

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