David Harris and the Mind Trust – Article in the Chronical of Philanthropy

Sorry for copying and pasting such a large article, but, I was afraid folks couldn’t get to this by using a link.  Anyway, here’s background info on David Harris and the Mind Trust….


September 6, 2010

Midwest Group Serves as Magnet for Innovation

By Ben Gose

Many of the innovators in the nonprofit world start in, or flock to, coastal
cities like Boston, New York, Washington, and Seattle. Midsize Midwestern
cities often struggle to attract nonprofit entrepreneurs, even years after
their charities have hit it big. Ohio, for example, has yet to attract a
single Teach for America chapter, despite years of trying by cities like
Cincinnati and Cleveland.

David Harris, who led an award-winning effort to build a network of charter
schools in Indianapolis a decade ago, has firsthand experience with this
problem. His early charter schools were outperforming Indianapolis’s public
schools, but he had trouble recruiting “A-list” charter-school management
organizations to come to Indianapolis and make even greater improvements.

“It became clear that we lacked the human capital to drive change,” Mr.
Harris says.

To spur innovation, Mr. Harris founded the Mind Trust, a charity that serves
as a venture-capital fund for education in Indianapolis. Over the past five
years, the organization has lured to Indianapolis fast-growing education
charities that historically have often overlooked Midwestern cities,
including College Summit, the New Teacher Project, and Teach for America.
The Mind Trust also provides two-year fellowships to education
entrepreneurs, including Earl Martin Phalen, whose Summer Advantage
enrichment program started in Indianapolis last year and will soon move to
other cities.

“What the Mind Trust is doing in Indianapolis is a model,” says Terry Ryan,
vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham
Institute, which supports efforts to improve education nationally and in

“A lot of the midsize Midwestern cities are really struggling to launch
serious school-reform efforts. That’s why when David says we’re having a
meeting, I go.”

No Big-City Sizzle

And he’s not the only one. In the past few years, foundations and education
activists in other cities have pushed Mr. Harris to franchise the Mind Trust
and take it to new cities.

Instead, the Mind Trust in June created a membership network that includes
mayors’ offices, education-overhaul groups, and private foundations that
want to accelerate educational improvements by bringing entrepreneurial
organizations to their communities.

The network, called CEE-Trust (CEE stands for Cities for Entrepreneurial
Education), has members from 12 cities and two states and is supported by a
total of $330,000 in grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and
the Joyce Foundation.

Margo Quiriconi, director of research and policy efforts in education at the
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, in Kansas City, Mo., says midsize urban
areas without a “handpicked superintendent” like Joel Klein in New York City
or Michelle Rhee in Washington-or the big-city sizzle that immediately
attracts education entrepreneurs-need to have one organization that takes
the lead to push education improvements forward.

“We’re Sisyphus here,” Ms. Quiriconi says. “The same is true in Memphis with
the Hyde Family Foundations.”

Both Kauffman and Hyde, which successfully pushed to bring Teach for America
to their home cities, are members of the CEE-Trust network.

The diverse membership reflects a view that it is not necessarily the
structure of the organization but rather the talents and connections of the
leader that make the difference in spurring improvements and innovation.

“The question is,” says Jason Kloth, executive director of Teach for America
in Indianapolis, “are there more people out there like David?”

Impressive Beginnings

Mr. Harris, who is 40, grew up in Indianapolis, where he attended both
public and private schools. He practiced law in the city for a few years,
before Bart Peterson, who was the mayor of Indianapolis, tapped him in 2000
to oversee the city’s nascent charter-school effort. In 2006 the city’s
charter-school program won Harvard University’s Innovations in American
Government Award, which recognizes excellence and creativity in government.

When Mr. Harris left that year to start the Mind Trust, the Richard M.
Fairbanks Foundation, with assets of $275-million, made a grant to get the
charity off the ground. The foundation remains the Mind Trust’s most
generous backer and has now awarded the charity a total of $4.6-million,
including a grant last year that will cover operating expenses through 2013.

The Mind Trust also has assembled an impressive board that includes Mr.
Peterson; Ariela Rozman, chief executive of the New Teacher Project, which
recruits and trains teachers; Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis
Public Schools; and Jane Pauley, the former television anchorwoman.

Ms. Pauley, who grew up in Indianapolis and whose son teaches at a charter
school, learned about the Mind Trust at a dinner party, visited the charity
a month later, and subsequently joined the board.

“For someone who appears as laid back as he does, David just gets it done,”
Ms. Pauley says. “He works so efficiently, you can overlook how much he’s

Perfect Incubator

The Mind Trust’s strategy has two main prongs. Mr. Harris says the
“low-hanging fruit” involves persuading proven charities to start programs
in Indianapolis.

Over the past five years, the Mind Trust has invested a total of more than
$3-million to attract the New Teacher Project; Teach for America, which
recruits recent college graduates to teach for two years; College Summit,
which works with high-school students to improve college-going rates; and
Diploma Plus, which operates alternative high schools.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the overall talent dedicated to education
reform in our community over the past couple of years,” Mr. Harris says.

The Mind Trust’s most unusual program is its fellowship program for
education entrepreneurs. The fellowships provide a salary of $90,000 per
year for two years and cover another $10,000 per year of start-up expenses.
The charity has received more than 900 applications for the fellowships and
selected six winners.

One fellow is Mr. Phalen, who nearly two decades ago co-founded BELL
(Building Educated Leaders for Life), an after-school program and
summer-enrichment program, and wanted a fresh start to focus only on summer

The Mind Trust fellowship seemed like a perfect fit-with one exception. “I
loved everything about it but the fact that it was in Indianapolis,” says
the Boston resident.

As it turned out, the fellowship didn’t require him to live in Indianapolis,
only that he start a program in the city.

During a visit to Indianapolis in early 2009, Mr. Harris coordinated 31
meetings for Mr. Phalen over a few days. Mr. Phalen met with five
school-district superintendents, two executives in the Indiana Department of
Education, the Lilly Endowment, the Central Indiana Community Foundation,
and editors at the Indianapolis Star, among others.

By April of 2009, Mr. Phalen had landed a $1-million contract to provide
summer programs for 1,000 kids in Indianapolis. This summer, his charity has
expanded to some rural areas in Indiana and is serving 3,500 kids under a
$3-million contract.

Now, the city that he thought lacked “sex appeal” seems like the perfect
spot for incubating a new idea.

“Quite frankly, because there aren’t 1,000 other nonprofit groups doing the
same thing, if you are really good at what you do, this city will line up to
help you succeed,” Mr. Phalen says.

Some Successes

Mr. Harris says the CEE-Trust will provide a platform for expansion for his
fellows. Mr. Phalen, who attended a meeting of the organization in June,
says he is talking to members from five more cities about starting Summer
Advantage programs in 2011 or 2012. Another Mind Trust fellow, Celine
Coggins, is the founder of Teach Plus, which trains teachers to become
public-policy advocates.

The Joyce Foundation learned about Teach Plus through the Mind Trust and
gave the charity a grant to take its program to Chicago. Last October the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave Teach Plus a $4-million grant to expand
its program to three new cities (making a total of six).

“That organization has really taken off in large part because of Mind Trust
support,” says John Luczak, the Joyce Foundation’s education program

The Mind Trust will soon unveil a campaign called Grow What Works to
persuade individuals and foundations to invest in the kind of groups it has
brought to Indianapolis. Mr. Harris says he can’t yet offer many details on
the campaign, such as the local company that is supporting the effort. Among
those participating is Teach for America, which eventually wants to bring in
100 new corps members per year (up from the current 75)-an effort that would
increase the chapter’s total annual costs to $3-million or more. .

The Mind Trust’s recruits can point to some successes. A pilot program by
College Summit at Emmerich Manual High School led to a 50-percent increase
in the number of students applying to college. Michael Anderson, the
“teacher of the year” in Indianapolis Public Schools in 2010, joined the
district through the New Teacher Project. A year ago, Summer Advantage
improved the math and reading levels for its participants by about three
months; most students lose progress during the summer.

Yet much work remains to be done in Indianapolis, which has 11 school
districts. The biggest district, with 31,000 students, is Indianapolis
Public Schools, which has graduation rates that range from 30 to 49 percent,
depending on the study.

Mr. Harris calls those numbers “catastrophic” and understands his
organization needs to make a more direct thrust into improving the district.
In December the Mind Trust received a $100,000 grant from Joyce to study the
governance of the city’s school districts. The study is not yet done, and
Mr. Harris declines to talk about it in any detail.

“Clearly thousands and thousands of students are much better off as a result
of this work,” he says. “But is public education fundamentally different
today than it was before? The answer to that is no. We need to radically
accelerate the pace of change.”


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