Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Porsche Chisley, Senior Director of Special Projects of The Mind Trust.
I provide a bio for Porsche below.
As the Senior Director of Special Projects, Porsche Chisley supports the creation and implementation of special projects meant to expand the impact of The Mind Trust’s successful programmatic work. Her responsibilities include designing and managing initiatives that strengthen the Indianapolis education ecosystem, collaborating with key community partners and stakeholders, and supporting The Mind Trust’s mission and commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Chisley began her career in education as a Teach For America Corps member serving kindergarten students in St. Louis, Missouri. After completing the corps, she taught middle school in Central Ohio. Feeling called towards social and racial justice work in education, she pursued educational leadership opportunities outside of the classroom and has held management roles in early learning, school improvement, school turnaround and innovation, and data analytics. Chisley has served on teacher-based and district leadership teams and led district turnaround efforts as a Director of Student Data. Her focus on equity and the use of evidence-based instructional practices resulted in gains on the Ohio Schools Report Card for multiple schools.
Prior to joining The Mind Trust, she worked full-time as the Director of School Improvement for a charter school authorizer serving over 13,000 students in Ohio. Chisley was a founding board member of the Columbus Urban League Young Professionals and co-chaired their Education Committee. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Ohio State University and a Master’s of Elementary Education from University of Missouri – St. Louis. She was born and raised in Indianapolis and is excited to be back home where she and her husband, Alex, will raise their three young children.
Expanding Our Impact
If you visit The Mind Trust’s website, the first words you’ll see on your screen are “World-class education for every child.” That is the guiding principle behind everything we do. For much of our 16 years as an organization, we’ve tried to move Indianapolis closer to providing that world-class education for every child.
It’s likely you’re aware, but there are deserving students all across the country who are being denied high-quality education on a daily basis. Throughout the life of our organization, we have learned that it doesn’t have to be this way; there are things we can do to change this – and what’s worked in Indianapolis can help thousands of other kids. So, when an influential education reform organization in Texas approached us about supporting their work to create an incubator that would attract talented leaders to grow innovative autonomous schools, we were all in.
Charters Exemplify Ingredients for School Success
We know our work over the past 16 years has been successful because of the steady growth of charter schools in Indianapolis. Their existence predates The Mind Trust, with Indiana’s original charter school law passing in 2001. Yet I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say The Mind Trust has played a central role in their growth and success. Today, Indianapolis is home to a thriving education ecosystem. We are responsible for launching 45 schools and 15 nonprofit organizations that ensure schools have access to high-quality teacher pipelines, resources, and more.
I highlight our work growing charter schools not because I believe they are the be-all, end-all. Charter schools are not a magic bullet. Charter schools are only valuable to our communities if they operate with integrity and according to the values that this type of reform was founded on – which is why we believe the autonomy afforded to charter schools must be leveraged by talented school leaders and accompanied by strong accountability systems.
The Mind Trust believes so strongly in charter schools because they combine a few key ingredients for school success: talented leadership, autonomy providing the flexibility to serve students at their unique needs, and rigorous accountability. These concepts form a strong, three-legged stool. If even one of these legs is missing, the whole thing falls apart. And we’ve seen this in certain areas of the country. Charter school critics have every right to call out failures as long as they don’t ignore the successes.
Sharing Successes and Lessons Learned
I for one believe the success we have seen in Indianapolis over the past two decades is really a testament to what is possible when all three legs of the stool are strong. I see it in results from a 2022 study by Stanford University’s CREDO, in our state testing results, and in the ways our community has innovated to overcome the pandemic’s many disruptions to education through initiatives like Indy Summer Learning Labs.
Speaking of data, the recent release of 2022 NAEP scores rippled across the national education landscape earlier this year. They were not necessarily surprising. But they were an alarming reminder that if we do not take decisive action, the current generation of students are going to be left out of the kind of transformative futures they deserve. Across the board, scores are trending down, to the point that any NAEP gains in reading that have been made since 1998 have been wiped out.
Part of us saying yes to supporting a Texas-based project stems from a recognition that success is not something to sit on or hide away. There ought to be no secrets in how to serve students well. That kind of information is public domain, and we have a moral obligation to share it with whoever comes knocking. We also believe there’s value in sharing our lessons learned. Across 16 years, we’ve made mistakes alongside witnessing significant progress. Why not share our hard-earned lessons with Texas on behalf of its students? They matter just as much as the students we have the privilege to serve in Indianapolis.
Which brings me to another point, something that stems from a major lesson we learned early on at The Mind Trust. It is this: no method of education reform will ever be successful if it is not led by those closest to the changes being made. Community engagement is absolutely vital.
I mention that as a lead-in to answer a question you may be asking in your head. Why is The Mind Trust working in Texas now? For starters, we were asked. We didn’t barge through the door. We answered the phone. Another way to answer why Texas is a matter of impact. Today, over 58,000 students sit on charter school waitlists across the state of Texas. Those students are asking for something better. They deserve something better. We can help ensure they get something better.
We have a moral obligation to share everything we have learned. That started last year when we partnered with the Max and Marian Charitable Foundation to pilot a community-driven strategy for launching an education champion organization in Rochester, New York. It continues with our work in Texas. If someone else comes asking next week, next month, or next year, you can bet we’re going to listen and do everything we can to do right by their students.
A Decisive Moment
Before closing, I want to turn for a moment to state flowers and what they can remind us of. Weird segue, I know, but stick with me. I promise there’s a point. Indiana’s state flower is the peony; Texas’ is the bluebonnet. Both of them are spring-blooming, here for a week or two, then gone. They mark a true transition from the chill of late winter and the dreariness that accompanies so much of spring, at least in Indiana. Blink and you can miss them as the school year concludes and people start making summer plans.
I bring up state flowers because I think we are in a spring moment in education. A moment of possible blooming. We have come through a long winter of COVID and declining NAEP scores and deep community unrest in so many parts of the country. But this comes with a caveat: while there may be something inevitable about the return of peonies or bluebonnets come spring, there’s nothing inevitable about education progress. It’s why we need to grab the longhorn by its horns, if you’ll forgive the terrible Texas-sized spin on that saying.
We are in a decisive moment where those 58,000 students on charter school waitlists are asking for something better. Will Texas provide it or miss an opportunity to expand world-class education options for every child? One thing I do know: The Mind Trust will do everything possible to make sure Texas can.