Former IPS teacher turned entrepreneur talks business and life after teaching

By Andrew Pillow

Derik Ohanian is former IPS teacher and also the CEO and co-founder of the online educational platform Lessonomix. He joined Teach for America in 2011 and taught for 2 years in inner city Indianapolis.

Pillow: “Hey thank you for granting an interview.”

Ohanian: "It's my pleasure. I'm excited to chat."


Pillow: “So you are a former teacher. When, where and what did you teach?”

Ohanian: "I taught high school social studies in Indianapolis, from 2011-2013. My career began at John Marshall Community High School, and then transitioned to T.C. Howe."


Pillow: “So what made you decide to leave the classroom and eventually start a business?”

Ohanian: "Public education has always been near to my heart. When I was in college, I became motivated by the fact that there's still so much work to do to ensure that every student leaves high school with a strong sense of preparedness. I wanted to teach, so I could have a positive impact on students' lives, but also understand more about the systemic issues that affect their education, and how we can resolve those issues. To me, it's always been about making sure that all students have full control over their destinies.  

When I left teaching, I thought about what I wanted my impact to be. My focus was more fixed on the teacher experience, and the splendors and challenges that came with it. I felt determined to do something beneficial, in that space. Of course, there are many ways to cast an influence, but for me, the route that made the most sense was through technology. I passionately believe that we can use technology to improve the lesson-planning process for teachers, and make teaching even more rewarding. Thus, it's these reasons that inspired me to venture into the startup realm." 


Pillow: “So tell us about your startup, Lessonomix. What is it?

Ohanian: "Lessonomix is an online social network that helps teachers create and share lesson plans and other instructional resources, through peer-to-peer connections. It also serves as a lesson-planner and an organizer of unit maps. Lessonomix is meant to help teachers stay organized and inspired, with whatever lesson they're planning to teach.

And really, it's about giving teachers that extra surge of energy and creativity. There are so many incredible teachers out there, who come up with innovative and transformative ways to teach a subject, gauge student mastery of that subject, and inspire student learning through projects and other activities. Lessonomix is about making sure that all teachers are speaking to one another, regardless of where they're located, so they can collaborate with one another.

Ultimately, we want Lessonomix to be a platform where teachers display their best skill-sets, and offer them in service to their fellow teachers. Teachers should coach other teachers. It's time we got away from the consulting model, where schools bring in high-priced project managers and analysts to solve problems in settings, where the existing resources could've accomplished the job."


Pillow: “Is your platform a response to a problem you saw in the classroom?”

Ohanian: "Yes, absolutely. When I was in the classroom, I struggled to put on an exciting lesson. It was tough, especially because I was new. I'd get tidbits of mentorship from seasoned teachers, whenever help was available, but I never felt like I had some kind of constant access to great ideas and successful lessons. While teaching, I really felt like there should be a tool that was as easy to use as a smartphone, just as intuitive as Google search, and as pleasant of a user experience as Snapchat. Something that clicks fluidly, is highly responsive, and navigable. The point is that it shouldn't be onerous to find the materials and resources, you need, to construct a great lesson on the War of 1812, or polynomial expressions. That's the point of Lessonomix, and I wish I had something like this, while I was in the classroom."


Pillow: "In terms of creating your startup, how did you learn what to do?"

Ohanian: “Any venture has to start off with a purpose. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What problem are you trying to solve? What behavior are you trying to change? I felt strongly about improving teacher-access to high-quality lesson plans and instructional resources, and could visualize what the problem looked like in my head. From there, it was assembling the right team, thinking about funding, and seeking mentorship out from entrepreneurs who had already been successful. Starting a new is all about asking questions, listening, and improving—that truly describes our experience with Lessonomix."


Pillow: “Thank you for your time!”

Ohanian: "You bet! I'm glad we had a chance to chat."

Check out Ohanian’s web app, Lessonomix here. For more info, email


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Let's Not Rush This High School Closure Thing

At Glendale Library on Wednesday, April 27, 2017, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) held the first of four scheduled meetings to engage the community and stakeholders in conversation about closing three high schools at the end of the 2017-18 school year.  Currently, there are seven high schools in IPS:  Arlington Community High School, Arsenal Technical High School, Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities, Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School, George Washington Community High School, Northwest Community High School and, Shortridge High School an International Baccalaureate World School.  Two other high schools: Emmerich Manual High School and Thomas Carr Howe Community High School, currently operated by Charter Schools USA, are not being considered for closure and John Marshall Community High School will be converted into a middle school fall 2017.

After Superintendent Dr. Ferebee welcomed attendees which included:  parents, grandparents, high school alumni, current high school students, former and current IPS employees, members of various organizations and community groups, IPS school board, and various media outlets, IPS Operations Officer David Rosenberg briefly explained the IPS Facilities Utilization Taskforce Report that details why the task force has recommended closing three high schools.  He stated resources were being stretched thin across schools and many high schools are projected to enroll a small fraction of its capacity. Rosenberg also shared families are leaving center township once their children reach school age and many students who begin their schooling in IPS do not go on to attend high school in the district.  The district will also save $4 million per year once the schools close.

Next, attendees were divided into groups.  Each group was provided with one copy of the taskforce report, questions to discuss, and paddles with topics.  When a group member held up a paddle such as academics, a district representative who works directly in that area would come to the group to answer questions.  Taskforce members, IPS school board members, IPS district administration, and Dr. Ferebee circulated the room to listen and respond to questions and concerns.   

After the break-out conversations, one representative from each group shared key concerns and questions for the district.  

Some questions shared were:

  • Let’s not rush this thing!  Why is the district moving so fast to close schools?  You’re going to decide in only a few months which schools will be closed.

  • Where will this money go from the closed schools?

  • Five years from now, where does that money go? What does that school look like after money is invested?

  • Why are parents taking their children out of the district once they become school age or before they enter high school?

  • Will the district consider the historical and cultural factors of each school before making the decision?

  • If the building closes, does the program at the building end?

  • You suggest schools are being closed to make the remaining high schools equitable.  If that’s the case, why is race not addressed in the taskforce report?

  • What did you learn from the state takeover of schools in 2011 in regards to maintaining the school and supporting the staff until the transition happens?

  • You’ve closed schools before and then reopened them.  Will we be here ten years from now reopening these schools you want to close?

  • Were teachers included on the taskforce?

Some comments shared:

  • This is a new form of Jim Crow.  You’re just trading in our schools for charter schools.

  • When schools close, students don’t necessarily attend the new school; many just drop out.

  • Move the district’s administration offices to one of the high schools you plan to close.

  • You need to bring back an alternate high school.  Maybe it can be housed in the same building, as it was suggested earlier, the administration offices could be moved to.

  • I think it would be sad if they closed our high school.  It’s the only high school (Crispus Attucks) with a museum in it.

  • We think the decision has already been made and you are just using these meetings just to get our buy-in.

Dr. Ferebee addressed a few concerns after feedback was shared. Many attendees were concerned about programs ending if the district closed the school where the program is housed. “If a building were to close, the program would move to another location.”  Many attendees also seemed to have a lack of faith in the district’s decision making; they felt the community meeting was just a show and believed the district had already decided which schools it is going to close especially since some schools have historical significance.  Dr. Ferebee reemphasized, a statement he previously made, “No decisions have been made at this time.”  Which was immediately followed by a man in the back of the crowd saying, “We don’t believe you.”

At the heart of this story are the students.  Students who are currently freshmen and sophomores will be impacted by this decision.  I had the opportunity to speak to two young ladies from Broad Ripple High School who attended the meeting. 

I don’t know how to feel right now.  I don’t want my school to close.  What they are doing – well it’s causing us to lose hope.  Teachers are giving up.  They think our school will close and they are giving up on us and going somewhere else.  They need to do more for the kids who want to be there.  The stuff they used to do like they took us out around Christmas – that’s what they should do to motivate us.  Kids are already saying they are going to drop out.  We’re just losing hope.
I’m a senior this year, but I don’t want my school to close.  They need to do something about the bad kids at the school.  Those kids make it tough for everyone.

Students who are currently juniors might not have the best senior year next year if teachers leave over this summer or during the school year once the district announces its final decision.

Although it is not clear which high schools will close, it is clear, by the size of the crowd, that people are invested and interested in the future of IPS.  IPS has a tough choice ahead and many stakeholders concerns to address.  

The next three meetings are:

f you cannot attend these meetings, IPS has provided a link on its website where you can submit feedback.

5 Tips to Help Parents Support their Children with IStep

Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star

Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star

The window is now open for the second round of ISTEP testing for students in Indiana. This test is more important than part one and the score for it weighs heavier in a student's overall score. Unlike the first test that was paper pencil, this test is taken electronically. Students will be reading from a screen and will be answering questions from a screen by typing in their answers. Schools have been preparing their students for this test all year and leading up to it, many schools simulate the ISTEP environment in order to help students know what to expect. As a principal I would like to offer 5 tips to help parents prepare their students for ISTEP this week.

  1. Ensure your student gets a good night rest. I see it every morning, the looks on my students’ tired faces after a long night of television, video-games, social media. This week parents should work to ensure that TV, games, and social media is limited. It is imperative for students to get to bed at a decent time to get adequate rest. Students need to be at maximum focus in order to do their best on the test.

  2. Eat Breakfast. As a middle school principal, getting my students to eat breakfast is like pulling teeth. They just don’t like to eat early in the morning. But this week we need all hands on deck on the breakfast front. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and during testing is critical to success. Students need to put something on their stomach, so they are not testing on an empty stomach. Typically during test the gap between breakfast and lunch is longer than what it would be on a normal school day. Students struggle paying attention in class on an empty stomach and paying attention on test is even harder on that same empty stomach.

  3. Get your student to school on time. Parents - you are in charge and it is imperative that you get your student up on time to ensure they make it to school on time. If you have a student that catches the school bus, please make sure they are at the bus stop  early to ensure they do not miss the bus. Schools need students in school on time because if they do not arrive on time, they will not be allowed to test and will have to test at another time. It does students no good to test during the make up time because that environment is not necessarily built for students to perform at their best. Be sure not to plan any appointments for your child during the testing week.

  4. Talk with your student about the test. It goes a long way in helping your student understand the importance of the test if they hear about it at home. I encourage parents to actively talk with their child each night about the test. Ask them how it went. Be sure to offer them advice about when you were in school and had a test. They need to sense the importance of the test not just at school, but also at home. They will have a deeper appreciation for the test if they are getting the same reinforcements about answering all the questions, doing their best, utilizing all the time, and checking their work from you as the parent along with their teacher.

  5. Ask the school. Parents I encourage you to ask your student’s school what you can do to help your student prepare for the test. Ask the school about helpful sites to prepare your students for the test and possible test question they may be asked. Be informed on your students struggle area, so you can provide some help at home. It is a major help to your student to reinforce skills at home that they are working on at school.  



David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Study: Indianapolis 3rd worst city for rent and education jobs

By Andrew Pillow

Indianapolis needs educators, but according ABODO the city may not exactly be an attractive option to potential free agents.

ABODO’s Cost and Opportunity series has found that Indianapolis comes 3rd to last in a data set that measures costs and job opportunities in education for American cities. Indianapolis received a score of 1.98 from the study. The equation used to get the scores included the average cost of rent, median wage, and employment per 1000 jobs.

According ABODO the principal reason for Indy’s relatively low score was the lack of opportunity:

“Despite low rents ($652), a low job concentration of 42 educator jobs per thousand keeps Indianapolis, IN, on the other end of the list, with the third-worst composite score. Only Las Vegas, NV, with just under 38 teaching jobs per thousand, has a lower concentration of jobs, earning the worst composite score”

Read more and see the full data set here. (ABODO)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Autism: Through a Parent’s Eyes

April is National Autism Awareness Month.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as, “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.”  According to the CDC, “about 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD.”  

How do you navigate the education system and life while raising a child with ASD?  Estacia Stokes is a parent of 2nd grade twin boys who attend Paul I. Miller School #114 in Indianapolis Public Schools.  One of her sons has an autism diagnosis.  This is her story.

I found out Jordan was autistic when he was about 3 ½ years old. He had a speech delay, but I didn't think much of it because he was premature. One pediatrician, that I didn't care for, looked at me and said, "He's slow. Get him tested!" Outraged, I left her office never to return. Yes, I knew he was different, but he was very smart in his own way. I did take her advice and got him tested. I took him to Riley where he went through eight hours of testing. I was told that he had a speech delay, but he was not "slow" and that his receptive language was way beyond his age. Then, they connected me with the Christian Sarkine Autism Treatment Center where I received the news that he had Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) which is on the autism spectrum.

This diagnosis changed my family in so many ways. When I left the doctor, I was heart broken. I had no clue what autism was.  I'm the most medically inclined in my family so I knew that if I didn't know anything about it, my family didn't know either. I can remember sending out a group text to my family that said, "Jordan has autism. No, I'm not okay and no, I don't want to talk about it." I shut my phone off because I wasn't ready to deal with the responses and questions that were to follow. My mom drove to my house, hugged me and said we would get through it and we would get him any help he would need to be "normal." I started to do my research and doing that helped my family and I understand some of his behaviors and adapt to his need to have a set schedule.

He has faced difficulties with people not understanding what he is saying because he hates to have to keep repeating the same thing over and over again. He looks normal, so sometimes in public we get those, "wouldn't be my child" stares if he's having a meltdown.

School is a challenge for him. He struggles in reading, but is brilliant in math. He attends speech therapy weekly in addition to the therapy he receives at school on a weekly basis. At this point, we haven't gotten over this reading hurdle. He is below grade level on reading, but he says, “It’s hard and the letters make too many different sounds. I will stick to math because numbers don't change.”  He's never been on honor roll which breaks my heart as a mom, but I know his grades in no way measures his intelligence.

I’m kind of on the fence about his school experience. You have either the degree track or non degree track. These kids have an IEP, but they are still graded the same as a "normal" child; I have a problem with that. His grades would make you think he sat and did nothing, but he actually works very hard trying to keep up with his classmates. I believe students with an IEP should be graded where they are and not graded based on the same standards as the other children. There needs to be a better grading system for children with IEPs. I think if they did this it would boost these kids self esteem to want to work even harder than they already are. I do love that they offer speech and occupational therapy at school. Jordan has had the same resource teacher, Ms. O’Neal, the last two years and she is nothing short of amazing to him! I hope we can keep her until he transitions to middle school.

My community, as in the African American community, really has no knowledge of this disorder unless they have someone in their family that is dealing with the same thing. It’s becoming more common for a child to have autism now so in the "autism community" there is a lot of support. You just have to be willing to accept it!

Jordan is a twin and having one twin with autism is harder than one may think. Jordan’s twin, Justin, doesn't understand why we make special accommodations for his brother or why he is trusted to do certain tasks that Jordan isn't. There was a point where Justin was jealous because Jordan was always going to therapy and specialists and he felt like we didn't love him as much. They balance each other out. Justin will help Jordan with reading while Jordan can whiz through Justin's math problems.

If I had to let people know anything, it would be to teach their kids the golden rule. Treat others how they want to be treated and just because another kid isn't "just like them" don't count them out. Include them in your day and let them into your world. It’s hard enough for parents who have special needs kids; don't add to the problem!



Indiana commits more funding to school choice in latest 2 year budget

By Andrew Pillow

Indiana’s new $32 billion spending plan includes a large amount set aside for education. After a compromise between the House and Senate, Indiana schools are set to receive more funding per pupil. The budget includes a 1.6 percent increase in the per student funding for the first year, and a 1.7 percent increase for the second year.

School choice is the biggest winner in the new education budget. Indiana already has one of the largest private school voucher programs in the country. The new budget will increase it by $20 million which is a 14.6 percent increase over the current amount.

The budget also allows for a boost to the School Scholarship Tax Credit program in the form of a 47 percent increase in the number of tax credits that can be awarded.

Read the full budget here.


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Weekend Links (4/22/2017)


Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Help Name MSDWT New Schools

On election day, 71% of Washington Township voters supported the operations referendum and 70% supported the construction referendum.  The construction referendum allocated $185 million to support renovations to all district schools and construction of two new elementary schools to accommodate the district’s growth.  

Currently, the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township (MSDWT) has seven elementary schools:  Greenbriar, Allisonville, Nora, Spring Mill, John Strange, Fox Hill, and Crooked Creek.  After evaluating the conditions of two closed sites, Wyandotte and Harcourt, MSDWT decided it would be more cost effective to demolish these buildings and build two new schools.  Because the cost of renovating John Strange exceeded the cost of new construction and because the John Strange site could not accommodate a larger building, it will no longer be used as an elementary school once the new schools are built at the Wyandotte and Harcourt sites.

By Fall 2017, the district plans to release more details about the construction of the new elementary schools.  Currently, they would like feedback on naming the two schools via survey. The options for the new school to be built on the Wyandotte site are Clearwater Elementary School and Sycamore Springs Elementary School.  The options for the new school to be built on the Harcourt site are Willow Lake Elementary School and Highland Elementary School.  They have also provided a blank for stakeholders to provide comments.  The potential names were determined based on Indianapolis’ neighborhoods and landmarks.

MSDWT encourages stakeholders to access its website to stay current on referenda updates and updates from Superintendent Dr. Nikki Woodson.

What’s in a grade? Valuing growth and instilling confidence in a high-stakes environment

We are entering the home stretch.

With the conclusion of spring break and with one round of standardized testing in the books, the time for students to demonstrate their growth is now. For any supplemental out of school time provider worth their salt, this time of year can bring tremendous highs, or lows that make you want to reconsider your life.

Generally, the return to school from spring break marks the end of a grading period, the next to last for most Indianapolis students attending various school types, including traditional public, private and charter. From a provider’s standpoint, this particular period can offer enlightening information. It not only highlights the current marking period’s efforts, but it offers an excellent indicator of the trajectory which will determine a student’s ability to progress to the next level.

A program that has served 112 public school students to date this school year, the Edna Martin Christian Center Leadership and Legacy program, approaches this point in time with confidence in our effort to enrich students socially and academically, but with the sobering reality that sometimes our best efforts have not yielded the performance for all students we hope to see.

Still, this most recent marking period was different. In the aggregate, a majority of our students are on track to demonstrate growth in the primary areas we evaluate: math, reading and science, followed by standardized assessments at the conclusion of the school year, when available. Overall, school day attendance remains high for a significant majority, and school suspensions were on the decline from the previous period.

But, a particular and unexpected anomaly was also observed: a high concentration of students from one traditional public school was exceeding our expectations in terms of collective performance. I’m pleased to say that in particular cases of students whose behaviors lead to poor performance, marking period outcomes far exceeded expectations to the point of near hubris. One first grade student who generally visits my office regularly for punitive reasons even received one of the biggest hugs I’ve afforded any student, which was honestly weird for both of us.

To what to do we attribute this growth? Perhaps it is the implementation of a comprehensive, individualized strategy in which all stakeholders work together for common benefit. It could be that students simply have decided to buckle down to realize the potential we know to be inherent. Even still, it could be the adjusted approach from dedicated school leadership and educators or greater understanding and participation among parents. Whatever the reason, the outcome feels good!

Now here’s where it gets tricky. In this high stakes environment where schools’ collective performance mean the difference between a ‘high quality’ or ‘failing’ designation, the difference between charter renewal versus closure, we have to ask if good grades are devalued for high performing students in low performing schools? What’s in a grade when it’s generated from a school whose majority fail to meet minimum standards, as is the case for the previously mentioned traditional public institution.  

Tell a student beaming with confidence in their first honor roll designation their grade is somehow less significant because of their school's performance over time. Tell a parent that has chosen for their students to remain in these schools their child’s demonstrable growth is not as legitimate. Tell the licensed teacher, school leader or community partner the positives are grossly overshadowed by systemic challenges for which none are happy but we collectively own.

With two months and much work remaining, this period’s snapshot offers hope, optimism and continuing confidence in our student’s abilities. These students may not have chosen the school’s in which they learn, but they’re choosing to try.



WATCH: The return on investment in high-quality preschool

By Andrew Pillow

Compulsory pre-k has been a hot topic lately. Many states are considering expanding their early education programs but one of the central obstacles seems to be cost. Larry Schweinhart talks about the value of Pre-k in his Ted Talk, The return on investment in high-quality preschool.

Watch below:




Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.