Josh Owens: Butler instructor wants to connect IPS students with future employers

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Josh Owens is running for a seat on the IPS school board.

(Chalkbeat talked with the 10 candidates running for a spot on the Indianapolis Public Schools board about their backgrounds, educational philosophies, and why and how they want to influence the school district if they are elected Nov. 4. To compare their positions against other candidates, visit our interactive election tracker.)

Butler University economics instructor Josh Owens is making his first foray into elected politics in running this fall for the at-large seat on the Indianapolis Public School Board.

The Shelbyville native, who is a graduate of the London School of Economics, said those who vote for him can expect him to advocate for the long-term best interests of some of the state’s most vulnerable students. He’s running against incumbent school board President Annie Roof, former State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, IPS athletic coach and pastor Ramon Batts, and Light of the World Church Pastor David Hampton.

Here is what Owens told Chalkbeat about his background, goals for the district and thoughts on education issues.

Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat and WFYI’s Oct. 23 education conversation event at the Indianapolis Public Library

Owens said he’s enjoyed the campaign so far — even interacting with his challengers.

“They’re all incredibly outstanding people,” Owens said. “These are all candidates who obviously come at it from different perspectives but have just a real heart for helping the community. That’s incredibly encouraging. It’s been fun for me to get to know these individuals, what they think could work and what they think wouldn’t work. We’re having a greally good debate. It appears to cover from one end of the spectrum to the other. If you’re a voter, you’ve got some real choices in the election and that’s exciting.”

His experience mentoring at Arsenal Tech High School led him to believe there’s a disconnect between students and the business community that should be fixed.

“I was working at Angie’s List at the time. Every once is a while, students would ask, ‘OK, so what do you actually do, or what does your day look like?” Really what they were asking was “How did you get there?” We need to get our local businesses connected with the schools. I think we need to sell it to businesses a little more straight forward: This is the future of your workforce. There’s two options: You can either go to other schools to recruit those students, or we can really engage in the assets we have here. We want to educate kids so we can graduate them to some opportunity that’s meaningful to them. Sometimes we make it more complicated than it is.”

He thinks trust is the heart of the issue with the community’s skepticism over a new state law that allows the district to easily partner with charter schools.

“They’re skeptical of what the board might do with that, and that has very little to do with the state law,” Owens said. “It seems to me the biggest issue is trust and the community is having a hard time trusting the board. There’s been a lot of change in IPS over the past two and a half years. Anytime there’s change, there’s going to be trust issues. What I can say is if you give me four years, I’m going to be in the community at our churches and in our neighborhood groups. Every single day, I’m going to look for ways to improve the outcomes in those schools and increase graduation rates.”

Owens thinks IPS needs to increase the number of seats in its best programs and replicate what already works.

“There should be as many opportunities as possible (for students) to attend the school that’s best for them,” Owens said. “When there’s magnet schools that are succeeding, we need to rapidly increase the number of seats. It’s not a surprise what those prescriptions typically are: it’s a very involved principal and a very committed and stable teaching base. Those two things together almost always can overcome anything else going on in a school.”

Big investments in tutoring, remediation and teacher professional development are needed to improve graduation rates, he says.

“We need to invest heavily in tutoring and remediation to help students who fall behind stay with their class,” Owens said. “We’re going to have to look at new online solutions. I think that should be the core of our turnaround overall. The second thing we need to really invest in is teacher development and principal development so we get leaders at the local neighrbhood schools that are outstanding. If we find efficiencies and funnel our resources toward those two goals, in four years we’re going to see some amazing gains.”

He believes his background in budgeting and finance will help him make smart decisions for the district. 

“Over 12 years of schooling we’re going to invest about $100,000 in each student,” Owens said. “How best can we do that? Can we get past the partisan politics and the bickering? How can we improve outcomes? There’s schools in this city that are doing that. There’s no reason we can’t. We’re going to have to be creative, smart with our budgeting. I know we have the ideas to be able to make it happen.”

Read more: Six critical questions the IPS school board race will answer

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.”