Spotlight on Indianapolis: Interview with School Director of Avondale Meadows Academy

The Avondale Meadows revitalization effort in Indianapolis has made great strides implementing the Purpose Built model, building 250 mixed income housing units, a state of the art health and wellness center, a federally qualified health clinic, and several components of a cradle-to-college education pipeline including the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated Charter School (K–12), the Excel Center (an adult charter school where students earn a high school diploma), The YMCA’s Early Learning Center, and the Avondale Meadows Academy (K-5), one of the top performing elementary schools in Indianapolis.

We recently interviewed Kelly Herron, school director of the Avondale Meadows Academy, to learn more about their progress to date and the challenges that lie ahead for them.

The Avondale Meadows Academy in Indianapolis, IN.
The Avondale Meadows Academy in Indianapolis, IN.

How did the Avondale Meadows Academy (AMA) get started and how did it become part of the larger revitalization effort of Avondale Meadows?

Kelly Herron (KH): AMA opened in 2006. The founders of the school believed that in order to revitalize the neighborhood, we needed to begin with a solid education system. We are a critical component of the cradle-to-college education pipeline in the Avondale Meadows community. One of the founders, Gene Zink, was also chair of the school board when we opened. He remains a member of our Board, a donor and strong advocate.

How important is the larger revitalization effort to Avondale Meadows Academy?

KH: The larger revitalization effort of the community is critical to our work at AMA. We take a holistic approach with educating students and empowering families. The resources that are now available to our families outside of the school are critical in breaking the cycle of poverty.

What are the biggest challenges facing the school? What are the biggest challenges facing the neighborhood?

KH: The majority of students come to us below grade level, having little preschool experience and low exposure to reading and language during their early years. We have to work hard to close the gap early. We do so by providing two full-time licensed teachers in every kindergarten classroom. Small group and differentiated instruction is utilized as much as possible to meet the needs of all learners.

The biggest challenges facing the community are the generations of poverty and the crime in the surrounding neighborhoods. We are in one of the five “hot spots” of crime in the city of Indianapolis. Revitalization takes time!

What are you most proud of at Avondale Meadows Academy?

KH: In 2008, AMA was one of the 5 lowest performing schools in the state of Indiana with only a 38% pass proficiency on the state test. By 2012, we more than doubled our proficiency to 80% and were recognized as one of the top schools in the state with regards to student growth. In 2013 and 2014, the school earned an A-rating from the Indiana Department of Education.

How do the other institutions in the neighborhood – such as the YMCA and others – play a role in the lives of students and their families?

KH: We partner with the other institutions in the neighborhood as much as we can. We advertise events for other organizations and invite them to all of our parent events so that our parents can become more aware of all that is being offered in the community. We consistently encourage early childhood education at the YMCA Early Learning Center and also encourage many of our parents to go back to school to receive their high school diploma from the Excel Center.

Where do you see the neighborhood in five years? 10 years?

KH: The momentum that this neighborhood has gained in the past nine years has been amazing to witness and be a part of. Within five years, it would be great to offer more mixed income housing and bring a grocery store to our families!