IPS At-Large School Board Race

IPS board president gets tough challengers in hard-fought at-large race

Indianapolis Public School Board President Annie Roof is outnumbered and will all but certainly be far outspent in her bid to be re-elected to a second four-year term on Nov. 4.

Can she survive? And, if not, will her replacement be more or less likely to push big changes for IPS?

Four challengers, some very well-funded, are making strong pitches to replace her:

  • Former Democratic state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan who is perhaps the state’s highest profile Democrat who favors reforms like charter schools.
  • David Hampton, the pastor of a large church who has ties to some of the city’s school reform leaders.
  • Josh Owens, a Butler University economics instructor with an interest in market-based reform.
  • Ramon Batts, also a pastor, is a charter school skeptic who coaches IPS sports teams.

Roof, a district graduate and parent of three IPS students, said her grassroots campaign will counter the tens of thousands of dollars some of her opponents are spending. Her at-large seat on the board is the only one of three up for a vote this year that encompasses the whole city, not just certain neighborhoods. With five candidates in what is expected to be a low-turnout race, some see the outcome as unpredictable.

In her four years on the board, Roof has walked a fine line between being a full-fledged member of a voting bloc pushing hard for fast and wide-ranging changes in IPS and an occasional skeptic of some of their plans. She’s been mostly supportive of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who so far in his one-year tenure has worked with some of the district’s traditional critics, such as those in the business community, in ways IPS has sometimes been reluctant to do in recent years.

Annie Roof

“I think that I’m going to reclaim the word reform and call myself a reformer,” Roof said.

Aiming to draw a contrast, Roof said she won’t take out-of-state contributions. She’s raised about $4,200 so far, according to her most recent campaign finance report. By comparison, Sullivan has more than $50,000 and Hampton has more than $20,000. Some of Sullivan’s benefactors are wealthy, and even famous, but not in Indiana — LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and his wife, each gave her $1,000, for example. But most of Sullivan’s contributors are local.

Mary Ann Sullivan
Mary Ann Sullivan

Sullivan shares many of her views about education with Hampton. Both favor the idea of IPS partnering with charter schools. They both have strong ties to the education advocacy community: Sullivan was endorsed by Stand for Children and Hampton has worked with The Mind Trust on education issues. Stand for Children and The Mind Trust both advocate for change in the district.

Sullivan and Hampton also both are pushing for the district to revamp its system for paying teachers and want to see the city expand access to preschool.

Stand for Children’s executive director Justin Ohlemiller mentioned both of the candidates as preferred options in a recent interview with Chalkbeat — but the group only officially endorsed Sullivan.

David Hampton
David Hampton

“It’s a great sign that we’ve got the likes of Mary Ann Sullivan and Dr. David Hampton running to help improve IPS,” Ohlemiller said. “Those are great, high quality leaders.”

But the two have one obvious ideological difference: Hampton sends his child to a private school and favors publicly-funded tuition vouchers that poor children can use to attend private schools. Sullivan voted against creating the voucher program as a state legislator.

Owens is less known to the city’s school reform community, but shares some of the ideology common to that group: he believes students will benefit from stronger connections between IPS and the business community. He argues the business community can better support IPS with stronger connections that provide opportunities for the district’s students.

Owens, who got his start working in analytics and marketing at Angie’s List, said he believes he will push hardest for big changes.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to put more resources in the classroom,” Owens said. “I’m happy to work with whoever feels like they can provide that.”

Josh Owens

There is one flat-out skeptic of the district’s recent reforms in the race: Batts, who coaches sports teams at Arsenal Tech High School and is a former full-time employee of the district. But it’s not clear his message is catching on, at least with people who give money to school board candidates. He  has raised just $525 for his school board campaign so far, according to his latest campaign finance report.

Batts said he said he’s passionate about the impact that parental involvement can make in kids’ lives. He wants to decrease discipline levels for African American boys, which are higher in the district than other groups of students, and reverse the “school to prison pipeline,” he said.

Batts, who ran for the school board in both 2010 and 2012, opposes partnerships between IPS and charter schools and the idea of creating autonomous IPS schools. He’s also skeptical of the Republican-controlled state legislature, and Ferebee’s friendliness to groups he believes want to dismantle the district.

“This experimenting with our children has to stop,” Batts said. “We have to stop looking at them as seats and dollars. We’ve got to change the direction that education is going in our city.”

Other than Batts, the challengers and the incumbent, Roof, share many viewpoints.

When it comes to some of the reforms Sullivan, Hampton and Owens support, Roof’s voting record shows she’s been helping to usher in changes favored by Sullivan, Hampton and Owens during her term, including charter school partnerships and a cut in the number of administrators in IPS’s central office.

Ramon Batts

Roof said she ran for the school board in 2010 in part because of her skepticism of former Superintendent Eugene White’s performance and was seen at the time as a voice for change. She’s usually a part of the board’s now-majority voting bloc that ultimately bought out White’s contract and hired Ferebee.

But that didn’t win her support from Stand for Children or the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, which both chose to endorse Sullivan. Instead sought and gained the support of the Indiana State Teachers Association, which she said sent her a letter endorsing her and promised a contribution of $1,500 for her campaign.

Roof has pushed her view, shared by ISTA, that there is too much standardized testing in schools, and has said she wants higher salaries for IPS teachers.

Being endorsed by the ISTA brought tears to my eyes,” Roof wrote. “In the last six years they have not been given a raise. Four years have been on my watch. To me, it means that we have been open, and honest with one another.”

The election is Nov. 4. To compare candidates’ thoughts on key issues, visit Chalkbeat’s interactive election tracker. Hear from the candidates yourself at a forum tonight at the Central Library featuring the five at-large candidates starting at 5:30 p.m.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”