Township school board races

Wayne Township school board candidates call for more funding

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Wayne Township's McClelland Elementary School. The district today passed a referendum with bout two-thirds of the vote.

This is one of 10 school board races in Marion County. Check back with Chalkbeat Indiana throughout the week for more information on the other candidates.

 

District snapshot

Wayne Township’s school year started on a high note with the release of 2014 ISTEP scores. The district saw the biggest gain in Marion County with a 5.8 percentage point increase to 64.4 percent of students passing. Superintendent Jeff Butts said test scores were helped by candid teacher convesations about what types of instruction were and were not working, and administrators stepped up observations and feedback to teachers. Wayne Township also redesigned its curriculum and put a greater focus on using student test score data as a guide to what needs to be taught differently. This test score upswing comes as the district has also seen growth in the number of poor families it serves.

Candidates in this race recently discussed the issues on Amos Brown’s radio show.

Key school district data

  • Enrollment: 15,925 students
  • Ethnicity: 39.4 percent white, 30.5 percent black, 22.9 percent Hispanic
  • Eligible for free and reduced-price lunch: 77.4 percent
  • ISTEP math and English passing rate 2014: 64.4 percent
  • 2012-13 graduation rate (most recent available): 87.2 percent

Candidates

  • Scott Edward Cline, 58, retired teacher who taught for 35 years in Wayne Township, running for re-election as an at-large candidate.
  • Mike Nance, 60, manager and owner of the UPS Store in Speedway, running for re-election as an at-large candidate.
  • Floyd Keith, 66, CEO of Planned Positive Attitude Professional Services, running as at at-large candidate.
  • Rochelle Olaleye, Senior Quality Engineer at Salesforce MarketingCloud, running for election as an at-large candidate.
  • Michael Morrow, 56, director of product costing/market analysis for Aero Industries Inc, running for re-election as an at-large candidate.

The following candidates could not be reached or did not respond to survey questions.

  • Stanley Ellis, running for re-election as an at-large candidate.
  • Brandon Bowman, running for election as an at-large candidate.

Why did you choose to run for the school board?

Cline: After teaching in Wayne Township for 35 years, I applied for the position 18 months ago when school board member Paul Calabro decided to retire early. I had known Mr. Calabro and his family since childhood and wanted to continue the excellent legacy that he has left behind.

Nance: I enjoy being involved in the community, especially the school system. I believe that I have a responsibility to give back to my community and try to help make Wayne Township a better place to live. A sound educational system is important for community growth.

Keith: I am running for the school board for the following reasons: My no. 1 concern and platform is “Keith for kids.” I believe EVERY kid deserves the opportunity to have a quality educational experience. It is my desire to be a voice for all we (the school board of Wayne Township) serve. Our school board must be relevant. We (Dr. Nicole Keith and myself as parents) have three children who are current students and one graduate of the school system. I am current and in real time with the issues facing our students. Our school board needs an experienced leader who is representative of Wayne Township families.

Olaleye: Education is key. I would like to do my part to help my district to continue to develop a world class education system.

Morrow: To help our students (young or old) to become productive citizens while making a positive impact on our community, and to help in that effort any way I can.

What issues will you focus on?

Cline: If elected, I will push for a more transparent means in seeing how our schools are being administered. Questions of how dollars are spent and why there seems to be inequities within buildings are my top concerns. Our teachers work hard, but one teacher in one building, being paid the same amount of money, should not be made to work additional hours or produce excessive, unneeded data. The letter grades of our schools have greatly improved, and we must continue to strive in maintaining those scores.

Nance: Strategic plan implementation, advancement of career and technical education.

Keith: Funding: Maintaining the essential services provided to our students and making the right decisions on the priorities. Maintaining our facilities. Being a champion for public education. Curriculum and assessment of the student: No. 1 is the academic success of the student. The ultimate objective of the system should be to enhance the educational experience of the student once they have arrived in the system.

Olaleye: Technology, building a stronger community.

Morrow: For the next few years, and beyond. The M.S.D. of Wayne Township School Board will have to be focused on items which will create the highest impact of financial cost reductions, while having the least amount of impact on our children’s education.

What is the most important issue facing your district?

Cline: Like most systems, providing and receiving future revenues is probably the greatest concern. Those legislators in the statehouse and federal government need to step in to today’s classroom for a week at a time. They need to truly understand how much teachers bring to the table with their own funds and what goes unfunded! I am a teacher advocate, yet at the same time an advocate for change! I am a firm believer that veteran teachers know what they are doing. Let them do what they do best and let them mentor newer teachers who are just beginning. 

Nance: Lack of funding by the state of Indiana.

Keith: Funding, funding and funding. Addressing the influences of economy and mobility. Combating the current “drought” of public education in the legislative process. Student academic success. Facilities: what to fix and what not to fix. Representation of the demographic population of Wayne Township.

Olaleye: Increasing overall success.

Morrow: Without a doubt it is the yearly loss of tax revenue. We have seen a significant decrease each of the past four years.

Anything else about yourself you’d like to share.

Cline: The new slogan, “Once A Giant, Always A Giant,” rings true for me! I am a product of Wayne Township Schools from grade 1 to grade 12, a 1974 graduate from Ben Davis High School. We also use the term, We Are Wayne! I can say that I Am Wayne. My family has been involved in Wayne Township schools for over 70 years. It is my dream to keep this school system alive and running well. We, as a community and township, can only make this area a better place to live and grow up in! Purple and White…..Keep The Spirit Alive!

Nance: I am proud of Wayne Township schools and very proud and honored to serve the residents of Wayne Township.

Keith: Floyd Keith has 44 years of professional expertise. Presently, he consults for the National Consortium for Academics and Sports of the University of Central Florida College of Business Administration, Indiana University-Purdue University and is CEO of PPA (Planned Positive Attitude) Professional Services. Previously, he served as the executive director for the Black Coaches and Administrators from 2001- 2013. Floyd graduated from Ohio Northern University in 1970 with a degree in education. With wife, Dr. Nicole R. Keith, an associate professor at IUPUI and current vice president of the American College of Sports Medicine, they have four children, all of whom attend or attended Wayne Township schools.

Olaleye: We are Wayne.

Morrow: I am a graduate of Ben Davis High School (Class of 1976), and in 1980 I graduated from Indiana State University with a BS degree in Industrial Technology Education. I have serve at many levels of management in industry for the past 30 years. In 2004 I founded the Ben Davis Dads’ Organization within Ben Davis High School and Wayne Township. The BD Dads’ Organization helps mentor students at both seventh grade and eighth grade centers, the freshman Center, Ben Davis University, and Ben Davis High School.

Answers have been edited for length.

How I Lead

This Memphis principal says supporting teachers and parents helped pull her school out of the bottom 10 percent

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Principal Yolanda Dandridge has led Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary for the last two years, and was previously the academic dean.

Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Principal Yolanda Dandridge walks almost 14,000 steps a day — double the national average.

It takes a lot of walking to manage two schools. Dandridge has led Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary for the last two years and was previously the academic dean. She temporarily took over Frayser Achievement Elementary when the schools had to share space this year because of maintenance issues at Georgian Hill’s original building.

“I am constantly on the move,” Dandridge said. “How else can you keep up with elementary students?”

Both schools are part of the Achievement School District, which is charged with turning around the state’s lowest-performing schools but has struggled to accomplish the task.

This year, Georgian Hills not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom 10 percent. In 2016, before Dandridge took charge, Georgian Hills was in the worst 2 percent of schools.

Dandridge was honored by the achievement district for her work.

“She is a real standout among our principals of someone who understands what it takes to turn things around,” said interim achievement district leader Kathleen Airhart.

Dandridge talked to Chalkbeat about how she gets to know her students, her efforts to motivate teachers, and why school buildings are important.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What was your first education job and what sparked your interest in the field?

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Dandridge walks almost 14,000 steps a day — double the national average.

I tell my teachers to always stay focused on the “why” behind their careers. For me, my “why” was the fact that my little brother got all the way through elementary school without learning to read. He wasn’t able to read until the fifth grade. He came from a family of educators, and he still slipped through the cracks. If that could happen to him, it could happen to so many kids.

I started teaching in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and I taught in that state for more than a decade. I came to Memphis as a teacher, I was asked later to consider taking on the principal role at Georgian Hills. I said, “You want me to do what?” Now, I’m grateful for all those years in the classroom and as an academic dean to prepare me for this role.

How do you get to know students even though you don’t have your own classroom?

Any chance to get into the classroom, I will. If a substitute teacher doesn’t come, which does happen sometimes, I will teach the students in that classroom for a day. I love getting to know students by helping out in the classroom.

I am also constantly walking the hallways of both schools. That’s how I start the morning — I greet students and their parents by name when they walk into the school. I walk students to their classrooms. I’m constantly monitoring the hallways.

When a new student registers for classes, the first thing the office staff knows to do is call me down so I can meet them.

How do you handle discipline when students get into trouble?

I really prefer to always consider the experiences that a child may have had prior to entering our building.  When you approach discipline with a keen awareness of the types of situations a child might have or experience, it really makes you a better educator.  And you understand that the best thing for us to do is to ensure that students know and understand that we have their best interests in mind. When children connect with you and other teachers in this way, discipline is less challenging.

What is an effort you’ve spearheaded at your school that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m very proud of what we’ve done at Georgian Hills and now at Frayser to really focus on our teachers.

Every Wednesday after school, we’ll have a period of professional development. I try to be attentive to what my teachers tell me they want to learn more about. There is a lot of coordination on lesson plans in particular. Teachers work together on their lesson planning, and I also will personally give feedback on a teahers’ lesson plans. My biggest, driving question is “What do my teachers need most?” They don’t need to be spending hours everyday lesson planning when they can collaborate. We can help there.

Tell us about a time that a teacher evaluation didn’t go as expected — for better or for worse?

Evaluating teachers has always provided me with the opportunity to hear and see the creativity and passion that our teachers bring to the classroom.  My thought on evaluations is to take the anxiety out of it and ensure that teachers are comfortable and understand that the overall process is about improving their skills and enhancing the tools in their toolbox.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
This year, Georgian Hills not only left the bottom 5 percent but moved out of the bottom 10 percent of schools in Tennessee.

When I was early in my teaching career in Mississippi, I had a student with a single mom. Her mom was an amazing support system for me and my classroom. She was always wanting to volunteer at the school. But she struggled to provide basic needs for her daughter — she was struggling to get a job. But she was trying so hard. There’s a stigma of parents, especially in low-income communities, not participating or caring about their child’s education. This mom was giving her all, and it changed my view of parental support. The school needed to find ways to also support her.

And so as a principal, I’m always thinking about how I can support my parents and invite them into the school. So that they feel welcome and wanted, and also so they are encouraged in their own role in their child’s education. We hold math and science nights, where parents learn how to do math games or science experiments at home with their kids. We provide them with materials and knowledge so that they can provide enrichment in their own home.

What issue in the education policy realm is having a big impact on your school right now? How are you addressing it?

We, like many schools in Memphis, don’t have the facilities we need for our students. Georgian Hills had to vacate our school building due to an issue with the roof. That created a hard environment for this school year — moving to a new building where we share space, and then me taking on that school as its school leader when the principal left. Honestly, I thought this year could break me as a school leader. But it didn’t, and it didn’t break our school either. We had a culture in place where our teachers felt supported among the chaos of the start of the year. After a year of repairs, we’re planning on moving back to our original building this fall.

But the issue here is that we don’t have the school buildings we need. Schools should be palaces in a community.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

You have to mobilize people’s efforts to “win.” The first secret to this is to love your people. They are here for a purpose and you have to help them understand the higher purpose that they are here to serve.  You have to have the right people in place, be responsible for developing them, and have the courage to let them go when student’s needs aren’t being met. Finally, transparency rules.

oversight

Aurora school board to consider one-year charter contract for school with conflict of interest

PHOTO: Andrea Chu

Aurora’s school board is set to decide Tuesday whether to renew the charter of a well-rated school that long has served children with special needs — but that also has become caught up in questions over conflicts of interest and opaque finances.

Aurora district administrators, concerned about operations of Vanguard Classical School, are recommending just a one-year charter extension rather than the usual five-year contract.

District staff members told the school board earlier this year that they were unsure about the school’s relationship with Ability Connection Colorado, the nonprofit that started the school and provides services through a $350,000 agreement. Not only does that contract lack specifics, but also the nonprofit’s CEO, Judy Ham, serves as the president of the charter school’s board and has signed agreements between the two organizations on behalf of Vanguard.

“You can see the clear conflict of interest concern that arose for us,” Lamont Browne, the district’s director of autonomous schools, told the school board in February.

The charter school board president disputes the findings of the conflicts of interest, but said the school is going to comply with all of the contract’s conditions anyway.

Vanguard, which first opened in 2007, was created to serve students with special needs in an inclusive model, meaning, as much as possible those students are blended into regular classrooms. Currently, the charter operates two campuses. One, near Lowry, enrolls about 500 K-8 students, and the second, a K-12 campus on the east side of the city, enrolls about 745 students. More than half of the students at each campus qualify for free or reduced price lunches, a measure of poverty.

In reviewing Vanguard, the district found it has a higher percentage of students who perform well on some state tests than the district does. The school also has a good rating from annual state reviews.

But the unclear relationship between the school and its founding nonprofit have raised doubts.

Although the relationship and service agreements the school has with the nonprofit aren’t new, Aurora’s concerns came up during an interview step that was added to the charter renewal process this year. Last time Vanguard went through a review from the district, five years ago, the district’s office of autonomous schools that now oversees charter schools did not exist. Staff describe previous reviews as compliance checklists.

Ham told district reviewers in that new step during the review process, that she never recused herself from board votes involving her employer.

But Ham now says that she misspoke, and meant that she has never recused herself officially because she just doesn’t vote on matters involving Ability Connection Colorado.

“It felt like (it was) a loaded question” Ham said. “But I don’t recuse myself because I don’t ever vote. It’s almost like a foregone conclusion.”

Browne also told the board he was concerned with the lack of detail about the $350,000 service agreement.

“Considering the amount that that contract was for, we were very concerned about the lack of detail regarding those services,” Browne said. He also pointed to school staff’s “lack of clarity with regard to what they were paying for and what they were receiving.”

Ham said the charter school has rewritten and added more detail to the agreements about what Ability Connection Colorado does for the school, which she said includes payroll services, human resources, building management, and risk assessments for students. The school’s west campus also shares a building with the nonprofit.

“We are on-call 24-7,” Ham said. “We wanted to provide everything so that the school could focus on being able to do the most important thing which is educating the children, knowing that inclusive education is hard to do.”

But what the functions of the nonprofit are aren’t clear, according to Aurora administrators.

“The school should not be wondering what services they are or are not receiving from the company,” said Mackenzie Stauffer, Aurora’s charter school coordinator.

Administrators recommend a renewed contract include stipulations such as governance training for the school’s board, meant to address conflicts of interest.

Ben Lindquist, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said that there are laws that could apply to give charter school authorizers like Aurora authority over conflict-of-interest issues.

“It should be within the purview of an authorizer to inquire into conflicts of interest if it perceives they are there,” Lindquist said. “But there’s not just one way to remedy that.”

Among the contract’s conditions, the district will also ask that Vanguard’s board be more transparent about recording board votes on significant decisions. Initially, district staff also said they considered asking Vanguard to remove the current board and replace all members, but officials said they ran into some problems with what they were allowed to ask the school to do.

“There’s a very interesting place we are in where we are the authorizer — we don’t run the school and we want to maintain that delineation,” Browne said. “However if we feel like there is something that could be a potential challenge for the school, we feel like it’s our duty to do what we can to suggest or recommend those changes.”