2014-philanthropy-awards-phalen

Photo courtesy of Phalen Leadership Academies.

Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA) is a dream come true for parents in underserved urban Indianapolis.

This nonselective charter school partners closely with parents and provides an outstanding, differentiated grade school education to a student population that is largely eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The curriculum includes art, music, physical fitness and significant use of technology. The school even offers free before-and after-school programs.

Earl Martin Phalen founded the school in 2012. Phalen was born in 1967 into a foster care system that too often leads to jail; fortunately, he was adopted by a couple who prioritized education. A Yale University and Harvard Law School grad, Phalen pays it forward by dedicating his life to expanding education and life development opportunities for underserved kids—including starting this Indianapolis Public School system charter school with significant civic support.

PLA already serves 300 students in grades K- 3, using committed staff working longer school days and years. Dramatic academic improvement by students and resounding praise by parents assures it will quickly grow to serve its desired K-8 grades. Overall student math proficiency has already increased from 14 percent to 84 percent. Kindergarteners’ gains alone grew from 3 percent to 99 percent! Reading scores are equally impressive.

As one parent enthused, “The incredible staff at PLA not only works longer days, they make time to invest in the community to help build a true partnership between parents and teachers in educating a well-rounded child who is strong physically, academically and socially. I’ve seen children truly blossom into the unique people they were created to be—my daughter being one of them.”

This is a school model that works within an underperforming urban district. It transforms the lives of not only its students, but also their families. Our country needs more schools like PLA. This is likely to happen, as Phelan was just accepted as a prestigious Pahara Aspen Institute Education Fellow.

What PLA has accomplished in Indianapolis, can also be done in similarly struggling school districts. And it should done too.

Phalen Leadership Academies By The Numbers:

  • Founded 2012
  • Serving 300 K-Grade 3 students from underserved communities (will grow to K-8)
  • 93 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch
  • From 14 percent to 84 percent math proficiency increase
  • From 33 percent to 90 percent reading proficiency increase
  • 8-hour school days (versus traditional 6.5)
  • 200-day school year (versus traditional 180)

This article is part of our 2014 Philanthropy Awards. Find more of our winners here: