NewsEducation / October 3, 2016

Purdue High School To Focus On STEM For Inner-City Students

Purdue High School To Focus On STEM For Inner-City StudentsPurdue University is launching a STEM-focused charter high school in Indianapolis with the goal of getting more inner-city graduates ready for college or head directly into a career, said President Mitch Daniels.Mayor of Indianapolis, Purdue University, Indianapolis Public Schools2016-10-03T00:00:00-04:00
Purdue High School To Focus On STEM For Inner-City Students

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels discusses the Purdue Polytechnic High School at its future home in the PR Mallory Building, 3029 E. Washington St., on the east side of Indianapolis as Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee listens on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. The charter school will be part of the IPS district under a contract that makes IPS accountable for student's state funding and their their academic outcomes.

Eric Weddle / WFYI Public Media

Purdue University is launching a STEM-focused charter high school in Indianapolis with the goal of getting more inner-city graduates ready for college or head directly into a career, said President Mitch Daniels.

The 9-12 school is scheduled to open next year on the city’s Eastside and will offer project-based learning in the STEM-fields: science, technology, engineering and math. Graduates who meet Purdue’s admission requirements will be a top choice for enrollment.

Applications are now being accepted. The freshman class will be 150 students for 2017-18 with a new class added each year. Enrollment eventually will reach 600.

Daniels said too few Indianapolis graduates college bound. This year only 26 Indianapolis Public Schools students were admitted to Purdue -- and of those only 12 made it to campus.

“We can not be the university we aspire to be or determine to be if we don’t do better than that in the single largest concentration of low-income and first generation students in our state,” Daniels said Monday during an event to unviel the schools future home.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district shoulders some responsibility for not preparing more students to be admitted to the Big 10 school.

“I just don't know if we have given students the right experiences to go to Purdue and be a benefit,” he said. “This will be a benefit but there needs to be more work in middle school.”

This year’s freshman class at Purdue has been described as the “most academically prepared” ever on the campus, according to the university.  The mean ACT score is an all-time record at 27.9. The average ACT score for IPS students was 18 in 2015, according to state data.

Purdue is partnering with IPS to operate the 9-12 school under a state law that allows charter schools to share resources with a traditional public school district partner but maintain autonomy.

That means the school will be run independently of IPS policies yet student enrollment and test scores are counted under district data.

Staff at the university’s Polytechnic Institute on the West Lafayette campus are developing the curriculum. Students will be required to complete an internship and chose a career tract before they graduate.

Ferebee said the school is a “step forward in addressing the dearth of high quality high school options in Indianapolis.”

But not everyone supports it.

IPS Board commissioner Gayle Cosby voted against the plan last week. She says the district is already expecting to close multiple high schools because there are too few students.

Across the eight IPS high school buildings there are 15,000 available seats -- for only an estimated 5,300 students in grades 9-12.

“Market based principles, being applied to education in this city, are supposed to magically improve things,” Cosby said before voting no on the measure. “I get, you know, the idea of competition but we are reaching a point where we are saturated with choice.”

The school will be one of two new high schools in Indianapolis opening for the 2017-18 school year.

Purdue Polytechnic High School will be located in the Englewood neighborhood at 3029 E. Washington St., in an old factory building known as PR Mallory, which is now vacant with wooden boards covering window openings. The city owns the building.

Daniels said the major renovations needed to turn the three-story building into a high-tech school will be funded through private donations. The school will open next fall at a nearby temporary location at 201 S. Rural St.

“I don’t want to spend one dollar on paint, or windows or capital costs that we could be spending on a great teacher or something directly related to the young people soon to come here,” he said.

Daniels said no IPS building fit the needs for the school.

Purdue has yet to purchase the building from the city, who will take care of environmental remediation of the property.

Purdue has already received financial support for the school. USA Funds provided a $500,000 grant.

Shatoya Jordan, who will serve as principal for the school, received a $200,000 fellowship from local education reform group The Mind Trust. The program offers training, mentorship and planning on how to operate an autonomous school with IPS.

The school was also one of many partners named as recipient of a $24.5 million federal education grant. The seven-year Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, grant from the U.S. Department of Education was awarded to Purdue and the Commission for Higher Education last month.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.



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