Ramon Batts: Parent involvement is the key to student success

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Pastor Ramon Batts is running for an at-large 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.)

Ramon Batts is making another run for a seat on the Indianapolis Public School Board with a goal of refocusing the district on improving from within.

Batts said he thinks IPS is on the right track to be successful, but thinks the new administration’s openness to partnering with charter schools and other outside groups will only distract from its core mission. He’s running for an at-large seat against incumbent Annie Roof and three other challengers: former State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton and Butler University instructor Josh Owens.

The pastor at Restoration Baptist Church and IPS athletic coach ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in 2010 and 2012. He’s running again, Batts said, because his experience makes him a good fit. He attended the district as a child, is committed to IPS students and their families and he argues he can be a strong advocate for students.

Here is what Batts 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)

Batts thinks IPS needs to do everything it can to encourage parent involvement.

“Parent involvement is so important,” he said. “You need to keep them engaged. I think there should be legislation to allow parents time off work to spend time at their children’s schools. That’s if our legislators are serious about helping children.”

Batts said IPS’s successful schools were being innovative before last year’s House Bill 1321, designed to encourage innovation through partnerships with charter schools. IPS needs to encourage innovation from within the district, he said.

“It’s crazy to me that we have programs that are working, but we let other schools go downhill without replicating what we’re doing (at our successful schools),” Batts said. “They have the same children in those schools. Some come from the same neighborhoods. If we were thinking about kids, some of this wouldn’t be rocket science.”

He doesn’t believe the candidates who are seeking “school autonomy” have the best interest of IPS at heart. 

“Autonomy is just another code word for dismantling IPS,” Batts said. “You need to allow principals to lead and do their job, but you have a district to support those principals and support those teachers.”

He’s skeptical about the purpose and effectiveness of state takeover, and wants four Indianapolis schools that were taken over — Arlington, Howe and Manual high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School — to be returned to IPS.

“They’re not working, because (the new school operators) are not able to pick the students that they want and keep them,” Batts said. “They had to take what was there. I think it was all a farce to put money in someone’s pocket. The IPS community, that’s where (the schools) belong. Those communities should have an opportunity to have those schools back to help be a viable entity in that community.”

Batts said IPS families are the base of his grassroots campaign.

“I’m clearly the front runner even without the money,” Batts said. “I’ve been campaigning for a few years because of the work I’ve been doing in IPS for families. I’m a candidate that our parents know and trust.  I don’t have to buy anything or anybody. It is truly a grassroots effort.”

(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.