Creativity and Accountability co-exist in an Indiana school

In the Age of Accountability, a School Famous for its Creativity Struggles to Get Results

(Image: Chalkbeat)

(Image: Chalkbeat)

The 26-year-old principal

Seedhouse was working in Chicago Public Schools in 2011 when she responded to an Indianapolis Public Schools search for a new principal.

A graduate of Butler University who majored in biology, as well as an alumnus of Teach For America, she had been drawn back to town for a TFA-supported fellowship that offers summer study for an education masters degree at Columbia University in return for a promise to lead a school in Indianapolis.

She made IPS an intriguing pitch. She would both preserve Key’s historic tradition–and make the school compete where it was failing, in the 21st-century world of high-stakes expectations.

Enacting its authority to “reconstitute” the school, IPS had moved to hire Key a new principal with authority to hire or fire teachers as they saw fit.

Key was coming off two years out of three with less than 30% of elementary school students passing ISTEP, including an all-time low of 23% passing in 2009.

The opening intrigued Seedhouse, who began researching Multiple Intelligences. One of her Columbia professors even put Seedhouse in touch with Gardner, who teaches at Harvard University.

Incorporating different strategies for helping students learn into classroom instruction was a good strategy for teachers, she thought.

“What jumped out at me was these were things I had tried in my classroom because I knew it was best for kids,” Seedhouse said. “I just didn’t know the research behind it. It made a lot of sense to me. It just seems like what good teachers should be doing.”

She also liked the idea of working for IPS, believing those who want to change schools need to go where the need is greatest.

But looking at Key’s test data, it was clear the school program wasn’t working the way Seedhouse believed it could.

“What we needed to look at was how we marry Multiple Intelligences with the expectations of academic rigor for foundational skills for students,” she said. “How do you get the academic results while still fostering the various intelligences?”

News of Seedhouse’s selection was less than warmly received by the staff.

“Terrifying,” is how Geoff Davis, who had taught at Key for 14 years, termed her announcement.

Seedhouse was only 26 years old, and she’d never taught at a school like Key. She had also participated in Teach for America, a non-profit group that recruits recent college graduates to teach in high need schools and an organization that some veteran teachers blame as aiming to recruit inexpensive replacements for them.

“Teachers thought Seedhouse would simply dump them and the theory on which they built the school,” Davis said.

But halfway through Seedhouse’s second year, Key has managed to stay true to the spirit of Key’s original approach while making big test gains.

Davis said he fully expected to be fired by Seedhouse, as some of his colleagues were. Today he is shocked to find himself not only teaching in the school, now located on the west side of downtown on the banks of the White River, but also championing Seedhouse’s program.

“It’s the kind of teaching I thought I would hate,” he said. “But I don’t, because she is a great leader.”

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