NewsEducation / September 20, 2020

IPS School Board Candidates Set Priorities In First Public Interview

Gayle Cosby, IPS Community Coalition board member, talks during a school board candidate forum Saturday, Sept. 19. - IPS Community Coalition / Facebook

Gayle Cosby, IPS Community Coalition board member, talks during a school board candidate forum Saturday, Sept. 19.

IPS Community Coalition / Facebook

Update: 9:46 a.m. Monday, Sept. 21, 2020

The first forum for candidates seeking election to the Indianapolis Public Schools' Board of School Commissioners was held Saturday and Sunday by a group often critical of the district’s policies.

A member of the nonprofit IPS Community Coalition (IPSCC) interviewed the candidates one-on-one in a series of Facebook Live videos. The IPSCC will later announce which candidates it will endorse in the November election.

The big picture: Candidates are concerned about the learning loss of students during the pandemic and how it will be addressed, especially for children of color who make up the majority of district and students with disabilities. They also agreed racial equity must be the focus for IPS to make new policies and invest in improving neighborhood schools. Candidates were divided on whether they believe district leadership and the school board is overly influenced by outside groups, such as the nonprofit school reform organizations The Mind Trust and Stand For Children who work with IPS, but agreed that family and community voices should be taken seriously in making decisions.

The questions: Each candidate was asked the same six questions by Gayle Cosby, a former IPS commissioner and IPSCC board member. The topics centered around the coalition’s own interests: demand for an independent racial equity audit of the district; ensuring high quality and culturally responsive schools to children of color; concerns around enrollment policies; and a moratorium on innovation schools -- district schools operated by charter organizations and nonprofit school managers.

WFYI previously reported three incumbents and seven other candidates filed to seek election to the Indianapolis Public Schools' Board of School Commissioners. Not all candidates took part in Saturday's live event. 

Candidate interviews for District 1 (video) District 2 (video) District 4 (video) and At-Large (video) are available on the IPSCC Facebook page. Here's a short summary of what candidates said: 

District 1, includes the near eastside and southeast

Will Pritchard Pritchard said IPS must look at school boundaries and other changes to diversify the enrollment at some high-performing schools. “Everyone wants neighborhood schools but the neighborhoods are segregated," he said. Pritchard does not support a moratorium on innovation schools, rather new schools should more closely be vetted case by case. "Our preferences should be for direct managed neighborhood schools," he said. 

Brandon Randall Randall said the district must not let racial and geographic lines in the city dictate which schools are well funded or offer a quality education. "When we look at why those are progrms are so popular, we have to be able to replicate that," he said of the Center for Inquiry Schools. "We have to make sure students are able to attend those schools." He supports a moratorium on innovation schools and a racial equity audit.

District 2, covers Massachusetts Avenue passageway northeast of downtown

Incumbent Venita J. Moore Moore said additional support and funding needs are directed to neighborhood schools. “I think we need to spend a lot of our resources so that the schools in our neighborhoods are good schools," she said, adding that opportunities for students to attend magnet and choice schools are expanded so some students aren't left out. Moore does not support a moratorium on innovation schools. She said the process allowed for Purdue Polytechnic High School to be created, which she supports, but some curriculum for innovation she does not support. "To say I am not for innovation, just (to be) for innovation is definitely true,” she said.

Daqavise Winston Winston is concerned about students not getting enough help during weeks of remote learning due to the pandemic. "We need to plan now, not later, to begin looking at ways to help them catch up." He said the enrollment lottery policies are contributing to re-segregation of some schools and should be changed. Winston supports a moratorium on innovation schools. "We don't fully know what is going on at this schools, whether they are working or not working," he said. "I think we need to hit pause." 

District 4, includes the areas south and west of downtown

Incumbent Diane Arnold Arnold says outside groups who positively advocate for students and help the district find quality leaders are a benefit. "They are all wanting the same thing, for our students to be better and our students have high achievement," she said. The district, Arnold said, must work harder on connecting with students during pandemic-forced remote learning as too many students are absent in virtual lessons and likely falling behind academically. Arnold says more changes are needed for children of color to access the district's most popular choice options. Arnold supports independent racial equity audit. She does not support a moratorium on innovation schools but says she likely would not support a future innovation high school option.

Christina Smith Smith is a co-founder of the IPS Community Coalition and current board member. She wants a moratorium on innovation schools and a racial equity audit. “We have to make sure every decision made by the IPS School Board is made with that in mind," she said about the district's pledge to make equity its focus. "If we don’t have some come in with a different set of eyes, a different lens, how will we know?” 

At-Large, includes the entire school district

Incumbent Elizabeth Gore Gore is worried that outside groups are influencing decisions within IPS. She suggested other board members "may vote on [a personal] interest, not the interest of children." Gore supports a moratorium on innovation schools. "Lets take a closer look at what is going on," she said. She supports independent racial equity audit.

Kenneth Allen Allen said the focus of his campaign was equity for all students, meaning, "every student in our district has the resources are need. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a system that was not made for our children of color." Allen said help from outside the district is needed to improve schools. “I am all for developing partnerships for public and private to ensure our children have the best quality education.” He supports independent racial equity audit.

Kendra McKnight McKnight is supportive of outside groups offering strategy and assistance to the district. She supports an independent racial equity audit and is unsure if a moratorium is needed on innovation schools. "It depends on how they are going to be teaching the students," she said of the proposed schools. McKnight said students with special needs should be recescoing direct help from their teacher of record during the pandemic. 

Ellis S. Noto Noto suggested IPS remove all school boundry zones as means to let students more fully choose which school they attend. Currently, IPS students can choose their school but they may be limited by transportation options and enrollment caps. "I wish [families] had the trust in the IPS district, that their neighborhood school was the best school.” Noto said innovation schools should be reviewed. "There is work to be done," he said. "Not all innovation schools are on the up and up."

Cary Patterson initally filed paperwork to seek election an At-Large seat but is no longer an active candidate, according to Marion County Election Board.

Chalkbeat Indiana and WFYI will hold a virtual forum with the candidates on Sept. 29. 

Correction: This article misstated the status of The Mind Trust and Stand For Children. Both organizations are 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

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

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