IPS board candidates diverge over charter schools, other changes

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Indianapolis Public Schools Board candidates debate the issues at Chalkbeat and WFYI's forum hosted at the Central Library.

Dividing lines began to emerge Thursday among the 10 candidates seeking three Indianapolis Public School Board seats at a candidate forum.

The event, held at the Central Library and presented by the education news website Chalkbeat Indiana in conjunction with the library and WFYI public television, featured the candidates answering questions from Chalkbeat’s bureau chief Scott Elliott and from an audience of about 100 people.

Five candidates are seeking an at-large seat on the board, which is voted on citywide. Incumbent Annie Roof, the school board president, is challenged by former state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, Light of the World Church Pastor David Hampton, Butler University instructor Josh Owens and Ramon Batts, a pastor and IPS athletics coach.

In District 5, on the city’s Northwest side, 16-year incumbent Michael Brown is opposed by LaNier Echols, a charter school dean. District 3’s incumbent, Samantha Adair-White, is being challenged by charter school dean and athletics director James Turner and Kelly Bentley, a former school board member who stepped down in 2010.

Of all the candidates, Ramon Batts was the most opposed to reforms that the board has moved toward, like partnering with charter schools who would take over IPS buildings or run IPS schools.

“I think we need to be strengthening what we have and using the space that we have to expand what we have,” Batts said. “Replicating our schools is what we should be about because we know that it works.”

Owens, Hampton and Sullivan, by contrast, endorsed the board’s recent moves toward partnerships and accountability-based reforms, saying that IPS should use whatever tools best support schools and kids, including charter partnerships. But, they said, simply promoting more of what IPS has already done is not enough.

“Replication of models is not as easy as it seems to be on the surface,” Sullivan said.

Schools need to create an environment where a school model can thrive within its community, she said.

“Particularly, top-down replication has not been a particularly successful way of changing schools,” she said.

Yet the candidates differed on specific classroom strategies that would better help children succeed.

Owens, who teaches economics at Butler, said that the district should use the data it collects to identify students who need help earlier, and take steps to catch them up. The sooner the district can figure out what kids need, the better chance that they won’t fail or leave school.

Similarly, Hampton said that teachers should do a better job measuring how students are learning but stop focusing so much on standardized tests such as ISTEP.

Roof, a candidate who has often voted to back changes her opponents also favor, said she just learned she was endorsed by the Indiana State Teachers Association. That group has fought ideas like expanding school choice and tougher teacher evaluation.

But Roof said she has long favored change in the district. She said she could back changes her opponents agreed with while also favoring ideas the union backs, liked a reduction in the number of tests students take.

“I’d like to reclaim the word reform,” Roof said. “I don’t think I’ve changed sides. I may have learned to become more cautious.”

The differences among the candidates are more pronounced in the district races, which are focused on particular sections of the city.

The incumbent board members in District 3, on the city’s North side, and District 5, in Northwest Indianapolis, said IPS is on the right track and defended the board’s progress.

“We put a lot of reforms through in my 16 years,” said Brown, who cited an expansion of magnet schools among other initiatives.

Adair-White said her biggest accomplishment of the board was the buyout of former Superintendent Eugene White and the hiring of new Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

“I wanted to get rid of our superintendent,” Adair-White said. “We brought in Dr. Ferebee who has an open mind.”

But some of their challengers say more aggressive changes need to be made, like restructuring teacher pay, partnering with charter schools and giving more responsibility to school principals.

Echols, who is a dean at Carpe Diem Meridian Charter School, said she hadn’t entirely figured out how she’d handle potential conflicts of interest that might come up if she were both a board member and charter school employee.

“It’s a sticky situation,” she said.

Turner, who also works at a charter school, said the district shouldn’t partner with charter schools. Charter school companies running former IPS schools in state takeover, such as Howe and Arlington high schools, worked out badly, he said.

“Howe and Arlington,” Turner said. “Do I need to say more? I see what combining a charter model with IPS brings you. I’ve yet to see it work.”

Some candidates said it was a worry that their opponents are pulling in big money contributions — Bentley pulled in more than $40,000 so far from contributors both in and out of state and Echols raised more than $30,000. The other candidates in the district races have each raised less than $1,100.

There’s nothing wrong with large contributions, Bentley said.

“If you’re a person of integrity, all your constituents are important whether they wrote you a check or not,” Bentley said.

Adair-White she takes those big contributions to her opponents as a compliment.

“I am so flattered,” she said, “that someone has to go out and get $45,000 to beat little old me.”

(To compare IPS candidates’ positions against their competitors, visit our interactive election tracker.)

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”