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

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.