Reimagining school

By Andrew Hart 

Over the last few months, the landscape of education in Indiana has taken center stage with rallies such as Red for Ed focusing on teacher pay, class sizes, standardized testing and the quality of our children’s education rising to the forefront of the conversation. 

The problems appear so vast it is hard to imagine what education would look like if we fixed these issues. But suppose for a second we could. What if we reimagined school and started from scratch? How would this type of school look?  

If teachers were fairly compensated and evaluated, I’d imagine a place where teachers love their jobs, where they can enjoy and hone their craft. A school where the mission connects so deeply with each teacher that their passion and joy are contagious.  

If a school could be intentionally and enthusiastically diverse, it could foster an environment where students learn the art of interacting with those from different backgrounds. Students would leave school understanding the innate value in people, developing respect for those around them.  

If class sizes were small, I’d imagine a school where teachers know each student beyond the grade on their report card. Deep relationships would be fostered, cultivating a student’s confidence in their unique passions and gifts, instilling a lifelong love of learning, not just a transfer of information.  

Luckily enough, a school like this exists. 

The Oaks Academy launched in 1998 with a single school of 53 students. Now a network of Christ-centered, classical schools in Indianapolis, it is socioeconomically balanced with 50% of enrollment made up of low-income families, and 50% high- and middle-income families. Historically and currently, the school is ethnically balanced, 50% of students are white, and 50% are students of color.  

Students at The Oaks routinely score well on standardized tests, and the school enjoys high faculty and family retention. We’re often asked, “How do you do it?” The answer isn’t a single tactic, but we believe the prevailing factor is the unwavering commitment to core values.  

First, children are valued for who they are, not who they are becoming. They are never a test score, or empty bucket waiting for their teacher to fill them up. Instead, teachers see students as a parent would — extraordinarily valued now … today … and endowed with incredible potentialities. 

Second, every student is confident that they are known and loved. Each child is known personally, with all his or her strengths and weaknesses, and still loved the same. When this happens, children relax, trust those around them and can fully engage in learning.  

Third, the curriculum presented is timeless. It is worthy of a child’s attention and affection — literature, art, music and stories that inspire a love of learning. Unfortunately, many schools present children with materials that are not inspiring. Day after day spent on standardized test prep, staring at screens, robbed of fine arts. This experience is not worthy of our children. 

Finally, school is about lifting a student’s vision beyond what they are learning to something greater. The focus is on something higher with the belief that great schools can be a catalyst to renew, rebuild and restore our communities and relationships.  

For 21 years, The Oaks has applied a time-tested curriculum and teaching strategies to consistently be a top school in Indiana. To be clear, we are not suggesting that everyone adopt these ideas. Instead, we urge school leaders to work diligently to identify and adopt common values that restore our schools to their rightful, honored place in Indianapolis.     

A values-aligned school is a great starting place. From there, you can reimagine the school you want.  

 Andrew Hart is CEO of The Oaks Academy, a Pre-K-8th grade, Christ-centered, classical school in Indianapolis, intentionally serving students from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Now providing professional development for school leaders and teachers to help their schools flourish. Find out more at TheOaksAcademy.org.