Reading, writing, and retooling


Middle schools are new focus of CELL through Lilly Endowment grant

UIndy’s Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning, already a significant driver of Indiana school reform, is ramping up to extend that influence over the next several years, thanks to a $7.5-million grant from Lilly Endowment.

The center, seeded in 2001 with $14.9 million from the Endowment, has parlayed that grant and subsequent funding into helping Indiana schools and districts retool for the 21st century.

CELL is exposing them to successful educational models and providing the expertise and support necessary for research and implementation.

“This new funding will enable CELL to expand its focus and address middle school reform for the first time,” says David Dresslar, executive director.

“Middle schools have been largely overlooked in the school improvement equation. If we can keep students engaged at the middle level, we can increase the likelihood of success in high school.”

CELL is partnering with the Indiana Middle Level Education Association to develop a statewide Middle School Network. The network will pursue exemplary practices recognized by the Schools to Watch program of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.

CELL’s goal is to help at least 10 new schools each year receive designation as a “School to Watch.”

CELL’s work over the last decade has focused on transforming the high school experience to raise academic achievement and graduation rates.

The center coordinates statewide networks organized around two high school models in particular: New Technology, an interdisciplinary, project-based approach incorporating technology, and Early College, which enables students to earn significant college credit while still in high school.

These networks facilitate resource-sharing, problem-solving, and dissemination of research findings to inform decision-making.

With the latest funding, CELL will support two additional high school networks—alternative and international—in addition to addressing the
middle school experience.

Meanwhile, the center will continue hosting its highly successful annual statewide conference, which connects education transformation to economic development for Indiana. The fifth of these annual meetings, in 2009, reached nearly 800 educators, business professionals, and community leaders—a 30 percent jump in attendance.

About 15 percent of attendees were business leaders and company executives interested in helping to improve educational outcomes in their local communities.

Contact David Dresslar at (317) 788-3777 or visit