August 21, 2020

IPS School Board Candidates File To Challenge Incumbents, Seek Open Seat In November Election

The districts of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners in Marion County.  - Google Maps/WFYI News

The districts of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners in Marion County.

Google Maps/WFYI News

Updated: September 20, 2020

Three incumbents and eight other candidates filed to seek election to the Indianapolis Public Schools' Board of School Commissioners in the Nov. 3 election, according to Marion County Election Board.

The winning candidates will face a slate of challenges next year, as they oversee the state’s largest school district. Those include the pandemic's fiscal impact and the uncertainties it brings to academics and enrollment. There’s also the ongoing evaluation of the district’s physical space, still expected to lead to proposed school closings and consolidations.

School commissioners will also have to find ways to support Superintendent Aleesia Johnson's promise to address systemic racism and equity issues, including academic achievement for students of color, their access to high performing schools and attracting more teachers of color.

IPS School Board president Michael O’Connor, who has led the district through all the aforementioned issues and weathered criticism over the district’s successful property-tax referendum, did not file for re-election. Earlier this year he indicated he would not run again. O’Connor’s decision attracted a two-way race in District 1.

Incumbent Elizabeth Gore will face three challengers for her At-Large seat. Gore won in 2016 when she beat out a well known commissioner. A fourth challenger who filled to run, is no longer seeking the seat.

But the race likely to attract the most attention is for District 4 -- where Diane Arnold will seek a fifth term against Christina Smith. Smith, a member of the IPS Community Coalition, is one of the most vocal critics of the school board and its policies to collaborate with charter and non-profit school managers, known as innovation schools

In the 2018 election two critics of the IPS administration ousted incumbent board members.

It remains to be seen how outside groups will leverage funds and other types of campaign support for candidates in the 2020 election. 

In the last election, the IPS Community Coalition and I-PACE, the advocacy arm of the Indiana State Teachers Association, supported candidates at odds with the IPS administration, while school reform group Stand For Children aided those in-line with the district's charter friendly policies.

All three groups endorsed candidates and provided various help, including Facebook ads, volunteers and direct mailings.

The deadline to submit a petition for nomination to run for school board was noon Friday. Each petition must include 10 signatures from registered voters who reside in the area the candidate seeks to represent. The signatures must be verified before the county election board approves a candidate's name to appear on the ballot.

Here are the school board candidates who filed an application for the November election with the Marion County Election Board.

District 1, includes the near eastside and southeast

Will Pritchard Pritchard is senior vice president at CREA, a community housing development company that specializes in low income housing tax credits. In 2015 Pritchard applied to the IPS Board for the District 1 seat when it became vacant after a commissioner resigned in September 2015. Pritchard lost to O’Connor, in a vote by board members.

Brandon Randall Randall is program director at VOICES, a nonprofit that provides therapy, tutoring and other programs to at risk youth. Previously, Randall worked more than two years as a parent educator at IPS.

District 2, covers Massachusetts Avenue passageway northeast of downtown

Incumbent Venita J. Moore Moore, a graduate of the now-closed Arlington High School was elected in 2016 and endorsed by Stand For Children. Moore, a business consultant, has raised pointed questions and demanded clarity on a wide range of issues brought to the board during her first term.

Daqavise Winston Winston is a former IPS behavior specialist who is now a secretary at Ben Davis High Schools in MSD Wayne Township school district.

District 4, includes the areas south and west of downtown

Incumbent Diane Arnold Arnold, who recently retired as Hawthorne Community Center executive director, is the longest serving commissioner, at 15 years, and has overseen some of the district’s most challenging times -- including the state takeover of four failing schools, a combative stance against the city’s growing charter school sector, and a sharp decrease in enrollment. During that time, she took part in hiring one interim and two permanent superintendents and learned to partner with charter school operators and school reformers.

Christina Smith Smith is an IPS parent and a co-founder of the IPS Community Coalition, a group highly critical of IPS leadership and its policies around school funding, charter partnerships, and the restart of struggling schools. Smith is a frequent commenter at school board meetings.

At-Large, includes the entire school district

Incumbent Elizabeth Gore Gore, a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and parent of IPS graduates, was the surprise winner of the 2016 election when she ousted incumbent Sam Odel, without support from special interest groups. Gore previously served on the school board in 2009-12 before being defeated. Gore rejoined the board as a skeptic of the district’s growing charter school partnerships and has become somewhat of a supporter in her first term.

Kenneth Allen Allen is program director at the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program. He is the chairman for the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males.

Kendra McKnight McKnight graduated from Kokomo High School and works at BCforward, a consulting and employment agency. She attends Indiana Wesleyan University, according to her Facebook page.

Ellis S. Noto Noto is a recruiter for the U.S. Armed Forces. In 2018 Noto filed to run in the District 3 race but did not collect enough signatures for his name to be on the ballot.

Cary Patterson filed paperwork to seek election an At-Large seat but is no longer listed as an active candidate. Patterson is president of the Indianapolis Teachers Society, according to her LinkedIn profile. 

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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