As a former charter school leader, I often contemplated this question on my commute home from work. In that role, my answers to the question would have, in retrospect, been too near-sighted, school-level answers like: excellent teaching, family involvement, and a positive, safe school culture.

Now that I have been removed from my former world for close to a year (wow, time flies), I have been able to watch how schools operate from afar through school visits and articles. I’ve also had the opportunity to prepare to be on the founding board of a proposed charter school. These experiences, paired with my experiences as a teacher and school leader, have helped me formulate a far too simplistic answer to the question posed in the title of this post.

So, what’s my far too simplistic answer? Two things. (1) Local board governance(and, in most cases, a local charter management organization (CMO)) and (2) consistent management/school leadership. Let me try to quickly explain. As I read this Chalkbeat article, these two things kept popping into my head. The article highlights the top performing Indianapolis charter schools based on last year’s ISTEP results (I can envision many reading this post rolling their eyes or grumbling about the test at this point. We can debate its reliability and validity another time. For now, it’s what we have to measure student success in our city and state).

Here are the schools who made the list, how they are governed, and who/how long their leader has been with the school/organization:

  1. Paramount School of Excellence – Local governance and no CMO | Tommy Reddicks: 6 years and 3 months
  2. Tindley Schools (4 schools) – Local governance and local CMO | Marcus Robinson: 13 years and 11 months
  3. Hoosier Academy – Local governance and national CMO | Dr. Byron L. Ernest: 2 years
  4. Irvington Community Schools – Local governance and no CMO | Tim Mulherin: 9 years and 1 month
  5. Christel House Academy South – Local governance and local CMO | Carey Dahncke: 10 years and 2 months
  6. Avondale Meadows Academy – Local governance and no CMO | Kelly Herron: 6 years
  7. Phalen Leadership Academy – Split governance and national CMO | Unable to easily locate


  • Board Governance: Local – 9 schools | Split – 1 school
  • Charter Management Organization: Local/None – 8 schools | National – 2 schools
  • Average Leadership Tenure: ~7 years and 8 months

*LinkedIn was used to find school leader tenures. LinkedIn data was unavailable for one school leader.

**School leaders listed are either: CMO leader or, if no CMO, the head of school/Principal.

So, there’s my case for the “secret sauce” to a successful charter school/network in Indianapolis. As I have now mentioned multiple times, this is simplistic answer to a question that is affected by hundreds, if not thousands, of variables each minute of every day. That said, the data is interesting and, in my opinion, compelling enough to write this post. I want to give a huge shout-out to these school leaders. They aren’t sticking around an average of almost eight years because they are a “warm body”. These individuals are highly effective at an extremely difficult job. It’s a job where one is often asked to do more with less financial, and non-financial, resources.

In conclusion, kudos again to the school leaders on this list. Just as important, kudos to the teachers in their schools getting results and positive outcomes for the future leaders of our city! This is also very challenging work. Kudos to the local boards of these schools who are volunteering a significant amount of time and, in a lot of cases, giving a significant amount of money.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to scratch an itch to stay involved in education. More to come!