Mary Ann Sullivan: School board should be more welcoming to people and ideas

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Mary Ann Sullivan, who was elected to the Indianapolis Public School Board in 2014, is expected to be named board president Friday.

(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.)

Former state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan often made fellow Democrats squirm in her time at the Statehouse. It wasn’t unusual for her to be the lone vote on her side of the aisle in favor of ideas like charter schools, tougher teacher evaluation or limits on teacher union bargaining.

At a time when the Indianapolis Public School Board has become more open to ideas like partnering with charter schools, revamping teacher pay and giving principals more control over schools, Sullivan argues she would be the best fit among five candidates in her race.

Sullivan is running for an at-large seat against incumbent Annie Roof and three other challengers: Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton, Butler University instructor Josh Owens, and IPS athletic coach Ramon Batts.

Here is what Sullivan told Chalkbeat about her 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)

She thinks “school autonomy” is more than just a buzzword.

“I want (principals’) decisions to be nimble, flexible and based in the actual population of kids that are there at a school,” Sullivan said. “Giving the schools that ability is a priority with me. I know there’s administrators out there who have things they want to do that, for whatever reason, they feel they don’t have the ability to do.”

Her daughter is an IPS teacher, and that has made her deeply concerned about issues like the district’s five-year pay freeze.

“I appreciate the difficulty of finding money in the budget,” Sullivan said. “Everyone wants to make more money, but if you’re already making a decent amount, it’s less worrisome. You have these young, talented teachers that are kind of stuck. I would be interested in trying to find (a system) that recognized the reality of the situation and how it plays out in people’s lives.”

Sullivan said endorsements from Stand for Children and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce bolster her credentials.

“I was very pleased to get both of those endorsements,” Sullivan said. “I have a long history with the Chamber. They seem to be really engaged in a lot more city building. Hopefully it has the outcome of creating better economic development for the city. I really wanted to be endorsed by Stand.”

She wants to change the way the IPS school board operates.

“I think they need to meet way, way less,” Sullivan said. “I would like for the board to look at the policy manual and see whether it needs to be thrown in the trash or rewritten. I’m sensitive to the welcoming-ness of public entities. The meetings are overly formal and a little standoff-ish. It seems like a minor thing, but I’d like to change the feel and the atmosphere on that board so that it’s more of a real working together board.”

She’s allied with candidates Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols in the other board races — all three were endorsed by Stand for Children and the Chamber. She hopes they can be elected to work together. Otherwise she will draw on her statehouse experience to make compromises. 

“If I get elected with the team that’s been endorsed, I know we’ll share the same underlying principles,” Sullivan said. “If it’s a more mixed dynamic, then I’ll just pull on all my statehouse experience. I certainly dealt with a lot of people where we disagreed on maybe 80 percent or 90 percent of the issues. You can put your energy on the 20 or 10 percent you agree on.”

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

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.