Parents start their own school after city closes another down

When their kids’ charter school suddenly closed, a group of Indianapolis parents decided to start their own. Now, what started small, is about to grow into something greater.

The effort began last summer, a few weeks after the city of Indianapolis closed down The Project School. Matthew Brooks was among several parents who didn’t like the other educational options, so he and several other parents decided to make their own school.

“It’s been a huge journey, just learning what we need to make this work,” Brooks said.

Last fall, the founders of Project Libertas, began renting out a youth center to hold classes for 40 students ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade.

There are four licensed teachers, including Owen Harrington, who is also a teacher, parent and fellow founder of the school.

Harrington and the other teachers previously taught at The Project School. He believes rapid growth and student turnover led to the poor test scores at the failed school. He said the educational model was worth saving and trying again.

“It’s the idea that, when you teach subject matter, it has to apply to all of the different parts of the student,” Harrington said.

The students are taught in mixed age groups and given extensive input into their project-based lessons.

Because the school started so quickly, it received no state funding. Despite this, the board still welcomed anyone to attend, asking families to simply pay whatever and whenever they could.

“It hurts me that I can’t pay what they deserve to be paid,” said Audretta Wright, who has four children who attend the school. “But that means a lot to me because if you look at private schools… if you can’t pay, they can’t stay.”

That welcoming policy has taken a toll on the small staff.

“Since probably the end of October, there has not yet been a pay day when I knew what my check was going to be before I got it,” Harrington said.

To make up for the limited budget, parents volunteer their time to assist teachers, cook food and serve as janitors.

“My outlook on it was, I was going to be home with my kids by myself, or I could be with all these other lovely people and share the workload,” said Elizabeth Dunigan, who volunteers as a teaching assistant nearly full-time.

It appears the sacrifice has paid off. The school has just received accreditation from the state as a freeway private school, meaning it can receive vouchers next year.

“It was a very big deal,” Harrington said. “We needed it to happen.”

As part of the accreditation, the school needs a school building, which they think they’ve found near 42nd Street. Project Libertas will also have to begin administering the ISTEP test, demonstrating yearly progress.

“There’s a little piece of me that’s getting excited about getting to the point where our kids get to take tests again,” Harrington said.

That’s because he and other parents want to prove their model and ambitions are more than just a project.

“Starting a school sounds kind of crazy,” Brooks said. “It sounds like a pretty big deal, and I’m happy and hopeful that we were able to do it. I wonder what else we could do?”

Project Libertas anticipates that enrollment will double in the fall. More information is available online.

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