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Our History

25th Anniversary Video


In 1990, twenty Indianapolis Public School teachers were invited to leave their classrooms and work as “exchange teachers” in a program funded by a Lilly Endowment grant. The position called for the exchange teacher group to write integrated curricular units and serve as staff developers by modeling instructional strategies and supporting other teachers throughout the district. 

The exchange teachers were to go into classrooms with their prepared units and teach literature discussion strategies and writing strategies to students while the assigned classroom teachers spent two weeks at the central office engaged in intensive staff development. The classroom teachers would be learning the same strategies that were being taught to their students. Dr. Jerry Harste, Dr. Carolyn Burke, and Mary Lynn Woods prepared the exchange teachers for their work and in-serviced the “intensive teachers”. Directed by Carolyn Day, the program was known as the Exchange/Intensive Teacher Program.

It was predicted that the benefit of the Exchange/Intensive Teacher Program would be to the intensive teachers. They did indeed benefit from this model of professional development and the in-service they received. However, the unexpected outcome was the transformation of the teachers serving as the exchange teachers, eventually leading to the development of a school.


As the exchange teachers spent time in buildings throughout the district, we encountered students who were not responding to the traditional models of teaching and learning that were in place. Students were not reading or talking about books, they were not writing, not expressing themselves, and certainly not posing problems or pursuing personal interests. As exchange teachers, we worked to develop more active learning communities with students and existing faculty. We saw that dialogue between teachers, in the lounge and after school, began to change. Demonstrating instructional practices that address the needs of students generated enthusiasm among parents, teachers, and principals. It was clear that students, by engaging in more active learning began to view themselves in a different light and to take ownership of their learning. Out of this collective enthusiasm we began to talk about school design and daily classroom practices.

Our talk centered on ways to address the needs of all students in the district, and how to sustain continued engagement that would feed students’ interests and value their experiences. We did not pretend to have all the answers; however, we recognized that a one-size-fits-all model was not working.

Dr. Jerry Harste and Dr. Carolyn Burke of Indiana University, Bloomington, Dr. Christine Leland of Indiana University, Indianapolis, and consultant, Mary Lynn Woods significantly shaped our thinking and guided our work. We became researchers and for the first time in many of our professional lives, we were part of a collaborative professional community. Seeing first hand the power of the work that took place when we engaged in action research and professional discourse, we vowed never to work in isolation again and to bring our new understandings to light in our work with our students.

With the support of Superintendent Gilbert, the IPS School Board, and the department administrators at central office, we set out to design a school setting that supported all members as learners. This would be a place where teachers, students of all abilities, parents, university professors, and pre-service teachers could study side-by-side and where everyone’s questions would be valued as part of a collaborative community. This place eventually came to be the school we now call home, The Center for Inquiry.


In 1993, the Center for Inquiry opened 5 classrooms in a wing of IPS School #92, taking in 100 students in grades K to 5. We were a “school within a school.” Jesse Lynch, the principal at school 92, was very supportive of the CFI staff, instructional practices, and partnerships. He welcomed us with open arms and allowed us the freedom to develop. Our university partnership with IUPUI, Dr. Leland, and Dr. Harste developed and we began to house a cohort group of pre-service teachers. Our classrooms were literature based, student centered, and the authoring cycle was used as a model for writing with students. We were just beginning to explore inquiry and how a constructivist philosophy of education played out in the classroom. We were teachers but also learners.

A site based decision making council including parents, university faculty, teachers, and school support staff, guided CFI’s program growth. It wasn’t long before the parents were asking for a middle school component and we were working on a plan to expand our K-5 program to grade 8. In 1998, our 5th graders stayed with us, beginning our first middle school class of 6th graders.


In 2000, the Center for Inquiry moved to its current location at Benjamin Harrison IPS building #2. We were no longer a school within a school. Superintendent Pat Pritchett and the IPS School Board decided that the time was right for CFI to expand and have their own building. The downtown location was exactly what we wanted; enabling us to take advantage of all the resources our wonderful city has to offer.

Our beginning 6th graders were now our first 8th grade class. We grew from 150 students to 250 students ranging from full day K to grade 8. A former teacher in the CFI program, Chris Collier, moved into the principal’s position. The teaching staff increased to 12 homerooms. The university followed us and we continue to work with our IUPUI cohort group. The teachers continue to prioritize their time to allow professional discourse, knowing that there is always more to know and to understand about the teaching/learning process. The students and parents have taken ownership in the learning process, making CFI a very “minds on” place to be. Surrounding businesses, neighborhood organizations, and service groups have joined us in partnership, benefiting all CFI students.


The 2003 school year marked our 10th year anniversary. In the summer of 2004, CFI was awarded a federal magnet grant to pursue candidate status for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes. Spanish instruction was added to the curriculum for the 2004-05 school year.

CFI replicated in the fall of 2006! The second CFI opened its doors to 200 students in grades K-6 at School 84 and also started its IB journey. In 2007, CFI 2 became the first school in the state of Indiana to be authorized in the Primary Years programme by the International Baccalaureate Organization and authorized in the Middle Years Programme in 2009. With long waiting lists and strong learning communities, the CFI model replicated again in the fall of 2011, opening a third site at School 27 with 200 students. CFI replicated once again in the fall of 2016 at the School 70 site, offering seats to students across the IPS district.


  • 1990-1992: IPS Exchange Intensive Teacher Program begins.
  • 1991: Original school proposal is developed by the Exchange Teacher group. A concept paper, authored by Exchange teachers, Chris Collier and Becky Lane, is presented to the IPS School Board by the Exchange Teacher group. Exchange teacher Carole (Hall) Damin begins working as a staff developer with the Intensive teachers alongside Mary Lynn Woods.
  • 1992-93: Funding for the Exchange/Intensive Teacher Program is not renewed by Lilly Endowment. The exchange teachers return to classrooms in schools throughout the district. A core group continues to meet on their own time and work on a school plan for the Center for Inquiry. Drs. Harste, Burke, and Leland continue to offer advice and guide the group.
  • 1993-94: CFI opens its doors to five homeroom teachers, 1 inclusion teacher, and 100 students in grades K-5, in a wing of Booth Tarkington, School #92. Jesse Lynch was the principal and our original staff included exchange teachers: Becky Lane, Carole (Hall) Damin, Pam DeFrantz, Chris Collier, and newcomers to CFI: Bonnie Beaumont and Annette Rathburn.
  • 1994-95: Indiana 2000 Grant developed and awarded to CFI.
  • 1996: Kathy Sharp appointed as Principal of School #92 and the Center for Inquiry.
  • 1998-99: First 6th grade class added, beginning the CFI middle school, taught by Marsha Bird.
  • 1999-2000: CFI staff and parents attend school board meetings and lobby for a building location. This being granted, CFI staff and parents plan for the move. Chris Collier is named as principal of CFI, effective in July of 2000. CFI is awarded the Outstanding Reading Program Award for Indiana by the Indiana Reading Association.
  • 2000-2001: CFI moves to School #2. School population expands to 250 students, 12 homeroom teachers and 2 inclusion teachers. The first 8th grade class is promoted. Dave Damin and Carole Hall Damin write a proposal and several grants for a project entitled “Neighborhood Yard at CFI.”
  • 2001-02: Staff grows to 14 homeroom teachers and student body increases to 280. A “Neighborhood Yard at CFI” (playground and gardens) is added to CFI. Funding and materials are provided by KIB, CFI’s PTSA, and others.
  • 2003-04: Student body increases to 300, the building’s capacity. New Science Lab opens. CFI staff prepares to re-enter the magnet grant cycle.
  • 2004-05 CFI receives a federal magnet grant to pursue the implementation of International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes. Beth Young is selected to serve as the magnet facilitator at CFI. Teachers complete Level 1 IB training. Application A is submitted to the International Baccalaureate Organization for the Primary Years Programme.
  • 2005-06: CFI begins trial implementation of IB programmes in grades K-8 and submits Application B for the Primary Years Programme. The teachers begin IB Level 2 training.
  • 2006-07: CFI opens a second site, located at School #84. The School #2 site hosts an authorization visit from the IBO for its Primary Years Programme and submits Application A for the Middle Years Programme. In February 2007, the School #2 site receives word from the International Baccalaureate Organization that CFI at School #2 is fully authorized to implement the Primary Years Programme in grades K-6. The School #84 site becomes a prospective IB school and submits a Magnet School Assistance Grant.
  • 2007-08: CFI at School #2 submits Application B to IBO for the Middle Years Programme, and a site visit is held this year. CFI at School #84 adds grade 7, beginning a middle school on site and submits Application A to IBO for implementation of the Primary Years Programme. CFI at School #84 begins a two-year building renovation and expansion project.
  • 2008-09: CFI at School #84 adds 8th grade, now home to students in grades K-8. Mandarin language is added to the curriculum (in addition to Spanish). CFI at School #2 is fully authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization to implement the Middle Years Programme at grades 7 and 8. School #2 receives a Magnet School of Excellence award. CFI at School #84 hosts an IB authorization visit for the Primary Years Programme at grades K-6. The renovation and expansion project at the School #84 site is in phase 3 and scheduled for completion before the opening of the 2009-10 school year.
  • 2009-10: CFI at School #84 is fully authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization to implement the Primary Years Programme at grades K-6. School #84 renovations are completed and a re-dedication ceremony is held. CFI at School #2 is awarded National Blue Ribbon recognition and a Magnet School of Distinction award. CFI at School #84 receives a Magnet School of Excellence award. Planning begins for a third CFI location to open at IPS School #27 in the 2011-12 school year.
  • 2010-11: CFI at School #84 hosts an authorization visit for the Middle Years Programme and becomes fully authorized to implement the program. CFI at Schools 2 and 84 receive Magnet School of Excellence Awards. Ms. Collier becomes Head of CFI schools and the former assistant principals, Mr. Joe Turner and Mrs. Dora Brook are promoted to Principal of School 2 and 84 respectively. Mrs. Jamilyn Bertsch joins the CFI administrative team in preparation for the opening of the third CFI school to be located at School 27. The School 27 site begins renovations. School 27 receives grants to install a KaBOOM! playground and a Riley School Garden. Planning begins on a new high school.
  • 2011-12: CFI at School #27 opens to serve students in grades K-5 with plans to grow to a K-8 school by the 2014-15 school year. Mrs. Bertsch serves as Principal at the newest CFI school. CFI reconfigures their grade levels, placing 6th graders in the Middle Years Programme. CFI at School #2 is awarded Magnet School of Excellence and CFI at School #84 is awarded Magnet School of Distinction. Ms. Collier, Head of CFI Schools receives National Distinguished Principal recognition. CFI at School #2 hosts a visiting team from the International Baccalaureate Organization to evaluate/validate the IB Middle Years Progamme at grades 6-8.
  • 2012-13: CFI at School #27 is named an IB Primary Years Programme Candidate School. CFI at School #84 hosts a visiting team from the International Baccalaureate Organization to evaluate the IB Primary Years Programme at grades K-5. With the retirement of Mrs. Brook and Mr. Turner, two new principals join the CFI administration team: Mrs. Andrea Hunley at CFI at School #2 and Ms. Tania Wolverton at CFI at School #84.
  • 2013-14: CFIs at School #2 and #27 are awarded Magnet School of Excellence. Ms. Collier returned from district-level leadership position to serve as principal at CFI at School #84.
  • 2014-15: CFI at School #27 grows to serve grade 8, is fully authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization to implement the Primary Years Programme at grades K to 5, and becomes an IB Middle Years Programme Candidate School. CFIs at School #27 and #84 receive Family Friendly Schools designation from the Indiana Department of Education. CFI at School #84 receives recognition as a Top Ten Performing School in central Indiana. CFI at School #2 is awarded Magnet School of Excellence.
  • 2015-16: Planning begins for a fourth CFI location to open at IPS School #70 in the 2016-17 school year, and Ms. Collier is selected to serve as the new site’s principal. CFI at School #84 is awarded Magnet School of Excellence. CFI at School #27 is awarded Magnet School of Distinction. 
  • 2016-17: CFI at School #70 opens! Two new principals join the CFI administration team: Ms. Brandi Herbert at CFI at School #27 and Ms. Kathleen Miller at CFI at School #84. 
  • 2019-2020: CFI 70 promotes its first class of eighth graders.