An Innovative Pathway to Teaching: Christel House Teacher Prep Program Sees Added Success with IPS Partnership

In our new series, ‘Meet Our Schools’, Teach Indy will share the work of schools across center township uplifting the vision and mission for student success through the eyes of educators in the buildings.

Christel House Indianapolis is the oldest and one of the most-established charter school networks in Indianapolis. Their first school dates back two decades and the network has expanded over time to serve 2,100 students at three campuses. Their schools cover grades K-12 and even provide early learning and adult education services at select locations. 

Christel House has consistently been on the cutting-edge when it comes to serving students from under-resourced communities. One example is the IndyTeach Apprenticeship Program. Launched in 2017, IndyTeach is a pathway to teaching focusing on this core idea: preparing talented college graduates to become exemplary urban teachers. As an alternative teacher preparation program, IndyTeach equips participants with training and development to secure their Indiana teacher’s license in just one year. 

Tracy Westerman is the Program Director for IndyTeach. She explained the genesis of the program by sharing, “We created IndyTeach because we noticed our applicant pool was thin and we wanted to get in front of that. Our solution was to develop our own urban teaching apprenticeship program to license educators in-house.” 

Notably, IndyTeach is fully accredited as a licensure program in the state of Indiana. It is the only one of its kind developed and implemented by an individual school or network.

Eliminating Barriers to Becoming a Teacher

IndyTeach apprentices are an integral part of the staff at Christel House schools. They are paired with a mentor during their one-year commitment. Instead of coursework, IndyTeach focuses on microcredentials that align to national teacher preparation standards and the work they are doing in the classroom. Apprentices receive three hours of formal professional development per week led by Christel House staff. 

The program is designed to eliminate barriers for those looking to become educators. Westerman again: “When we created the program, we knew there were many people who wanted to become teachers, but faced significant barriers to entering the profession.” To remove financial barriers, IndyTeach apprentices receive a full salary, benefits, and financial support to pay for things like CPR certification, licensure fees, and Praxis exams. 

The program has demonstrated such success in recruiting, training, and retaining high-quality educators that Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) chose to partner with Christel House to offer the IndyTeach program at three schools during the 2022-23 academic year. IPS’ Manager of Teacher Preparation Dena Durish said, “This partnership is one component of the IPS ‘Proving What’s Possible’ initiative. It is truly a unique partnership between a large urban district and a charter network, and shows the powerful impact of collaboration to support student success and career satisfaction at the same time.”

Impact is Felt School-Wide

The Christel House team sees the benefits of IndyTeach go beyond just the development of new teachers. It also impacts program mentors in profound ways. “The existence of IndyTeach has helped us retain our most effective teachers by offering leadership opportunities, including leading professional development, without them having to leave the classroom,” Westerman emphasized. 

Another component setting IndyTeach apart from similar teacher prep programs is the expanded one-year, gradual-release model. Apprentices receive support throughout an entire academic year. They begin the year by building relationships with students and learning the school and classroom culture, eventually taking on partial co-teaching responsibilities, and ultimately stepping into full teaching responsibilities by the end of the year. 

Durish was also quick to note that program impact trickles down to student learning. “The impact on student achievement is significant,” said Durish. “Principals have been impressed by student growth in classrooms with apprentices, which we attribute to two adults being in the room throughout the year. Apprentices start their classroom experiences leading intervention groups and supporting instruction from the first weeks of school, so students have more opportunities to engage and learn.”

So what does it look like from the perspective of an IndyTeach apprentice? Duane Curry completed the program in 2020-21 and is now a 5th grade teacher at Christel House Academy West. Curry shared, “Working closely with mentor teachers during the program allowed me to see the full scope of the school and witness effective teaching.”

Something that really stands out to Curry now that he’s completed the program is how Christel House has designed it to be about much more than just achieving licensure. “They continue to invest in our development after our apprenticeship,” said Curry. “There are opportunities to become a mentor or aid with professional development or lead apprentice groups.” He credits IndyTeach with expanding his network and connecting him to educators across the Christel House network.

A Program Whose Alumni Stay Teaching Long-Term

Westerman has noticed an incredible retention rate for educators who complete the program. More than 90 percent of IndyTeach alumni remain in the teaching profession. “I believe it’s because our apprentices feel supported and prepared for classroom success having worked through the struggles of a first-year teacher in a safe and supportive environment,” shared Westerman.

The longevity of apprentices can also be attributed to how applicants are recruited and selected. Durish stated, “We screen for value propositions and look for candidates who are passionate about working in urban schools.”

Applications are currently open for the 2023-24 IndyTeach cohort. The deadline to apply is March 31 and interested candidates can learn more about the program and how to apply by visiting Christel House’s website.

We thank the incredible educators and program leaders for IndyTeach at both Christel House Indianapolis and Indianapolis Public Schools for sharing their experience. Christel House Staff members: Tracy Westerman, Program Director of IndyTeach and Duane Curry, 5th Grade Teacher and IndyTeach Graduate. Indianapolis Public Schools Staff member: Dena Durish, Manager of Talent Preparation.