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.

the one to watch

Inside the three-candidate battle for northeast Denver’s school board seat

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

Of the Denver school board races on the November ballot, none packs more intrigue than the fight for District 4.

The three-person slate of candidates features an appointed incumbent who’s never run for office and supports the district’s current path, an outspoken recent high school graduate who sharply disagrees, and a former charter school educator with a more nuanced view and — in what on its surface may seem surprising — the endorsement of the teachers union.

The seat represents a large swath of northeast Denver with a wide range of income levels, including areas that are gentrifying quickly and others that have been home to some of the district’s most aggressive school improvement strategies.

The Nov. 7 election is high stakes. Four of the seven seats on the Denver school board are up for grabs. If candidates who disagree with Denver Public Schools’ direction win all four races, they’ll have the political power to change key policies in the state’s largest school district and one nationally recognized for its embrace of school choice and autonomy.

Tay Anderson is one of those candidates. The 19-year-old graduated from Denver’s Manual High School last year and is now a student at Metropolitan State University. On the campaign trail, he has doggedly criticized the district for what he describes as weak community engagement efforts and a move to “privatize” public education by approving more charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run (in Denver, by nonprofit operators).

He also has led the charge in attempting to tie the current school board and the incumbent candidates to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose stance on school choice — and especially private school vouchers, which DPS does not support — have made her a controversial figure.

    This is the first of a series of articles profiling this year’s Denver school board races. You can read about where candidates in all the DPS races stand on issues here, in Chalkbeat’s candidate questionnaire. Check out our coverage of the campaign’s first campaign finance reports here.

When DeVos came to Denver in July to give a speech to a group of conservative lawmakers from across the United States, Anderson organized a protest against her. In front of a crowd of hundreds, he called out the current Denver school board members.

“We can tell them, ‘Screw you. You’re fired in November!’” he said.

Anderson has a compelling personal story. The teenager struggled in high school before becoming a leader at Denver’s Manual High. He was student body president, chairman of the Colorado High School Democrats and a member of the Student Board of Education.

Anderson was also homeless for a time and has said his own challenges give him valuable insight into the lives of other Denver students living in difficult situations. About two-thirds of the district’s 92,000 students qualify for subsidized lunches, a proxy for poverty.

“I have had nobody in my corner when I was a homeless student and when I was in and out of foster care,” Anderson said at a recent televised candidate debate. “And now it is my turn to turn to our students and say, ‘I am going to be your champion.’”

His candidacy has attracted more local and national press attention than is usual for a school board race. But while Anderson has said his young age would bring a fresh perspective to the board, his opponents have questioned whether he has the experience to serve.

“It’s one thing to swing a hammer at a frustration, but it’s another to know where to swing it,” said candidate Jennifer Bacon, one of Anderson’s two opponents.

Anderson is running against Bacon, 35, and incumbent Rachele Espiritu, 48. Espiritu was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in May 2016. The appointment process was long and marked by controversy. The first appointee, MiDian Holmes, stepped aside after details about a misdemeanor child abuse conviction and her mischaracterization of it came to light.

Both Espiritu and Bacon were among the finalists for the position. But Bacon withdrew, explaining at the time it was “in consideration of my need for growth and readiness for this position, as well as my interests in supporting the board.”

Asked recently to elaborate, Bacon said she withdrew because she sensed she wasn’t going to be appointed. She said she, too, had an arrest in her background: for stealing a necklace from Macy’s when she was in college. Bacon said the charge was dropped and she was not convicted. (No charges showed up in a background check done by Chalkbeat.)

Bacon, who attended college in Louisiana, said the arrest was a turning point at a time when she was struggling to find her purpose. She went on to join the Teach for America corps, teaching for a year in New Orleans and a year in Miami.

After teaching, she went to law school and then moved in 2010 to Denver, where she worked first as a dean for the city’s largest charter school network, DSST, and then in alumni affairs for Teach for America. She is now a regional director with Leadership for Educational Equity, a nonprofit organization that trains educators to advocate for policy changes.

Bacon said she wondered whether her positions on key issues also made her an unlikely appointee. For instance, she has said she’s not opposed to charter schools but believes Denver has reached its threshold and should focus on shoring up its traditional schools.

“People ask me if I’m pro-charter,” Bacon said in an interview. “I’m pro-community.”

Since Espiritu was appointed, she has largely voted in line with the rest of the school board. But she chafes at the idea that the board is monolithic or a rubber stamp for the administration. Much back-and-forth occurs before a decision, she said in an interview, and each board member brings a unique background and set of life experiences to the table.

Espiritu often says on the campaign trail that she’s the only immigrant to serve on the board in the last century. She was born in the Philippines and came to the United States as a toddler. She holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Colorado Boulder and helped found a small business called Change Matrix that assists organizations with planning, putting into place and monitoring change. She and her family moved to Denver in 2012.

Espiritu has two sons. Her oldest goes to DSST: Stapleton High, a charter school. Her youngest goes to William (Bill) Roberts School, a K-8 district-run school. She has said that in choosing schools for her children, she focused on quality and not on type.

As a member of the board, Espiritu has paid particular attention to efforts to improve student mental health. She recently encouraged DPS to become a “trauma-informed school district.”

“I want us to be a district that addresses student and educator trauma in a proactive or preventative way that’s culturally sensitive and systematic in fashion,” she said at a September board meeting. “…We need to shift our thinking from asking what is wrong with a child to what happened with a child.”

Parts of northeast Denver have struggled academically. The region is home to the district’s biggest-ever school turnaround effort, as well as two of three schools the board voted unanimously last year to close due to poor performance.

The candidates’ disparate views on school closure offer a window into what differentiates them. Espiritu voted for the closures, though she noted at a subsequent board meeting that doing so was “a painful process … and such a difficult decision.”

Anderson has said he opposes closing any more traditional, district-run schools. Bacon, meanwhile, has said that while she doesn’t believe in “trapping kids in failing schools,” ideas about how to turn things around should originate with affected families.

Two local groups that traditionally endorse candidates and contribute large sums of money struggled this year with who to support in District 4. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association endorsed Bacon, but a progressive caucus of the union chose to separately support Anderson. The pro-reform group Stand for Children did not endorse any candidate, explaining that both Bacon and Espiritu surpassed its “threshold for endorsement.”

Of the three candidates, Espiritu had raised the most money — $73,847 — as of Oct. 11, when the first campaign finance filing period ended. Bacon had raised $59,302, including $10,000 from the teachers union, while Anderson had raised $16,331.

Espiritu and Bacon have also benefitted from the support of independent expenditure committees. A union-funded group called Brighter Futures for Denver spent $139,000 on Bacon. Two other groups, Students for Education Reform and Raising Colorado, which is associated with Democrats for Education Reform, spent a total of $73,229 on Espiritu.

Sorting the Students

As Nashville heads to court over sharing student information with the state, here’s why Memphis probably won’t

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
Nashville's Davidson County Chancery Court building where the state filed against Metro Nashville Public Schools over sharing contact information with charter schools.

Tennessee’s two largest school districts are often in lockstep on key issues. But in a recent tiff with the state about sharing student information with charter schools, the two districts are poised to part ways.

Leaders of Nashville’s school district have repeatedly defied an order from Tennessee’s education commissioner to share student addresses, phone numbers, and other information with the state’s controversial turnaround district, as required by a new state law. The state filed a lawsuit this week in response.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Memphis district have spoken out about the rule — but are preparing to comply. The district has given parents until Sunday, Oct. 22 to opt out of sharing their contact information with charter schools.

Instead of outright rejecting McQueen’s deadline last month like Nashville did, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson sought a compromise and the district has indicated contact information after the opt out window could be shared.

“… we respectfully request you extend your deadline until October 23, 2017 to allow our families the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding their rights and to give our board an opportunity to vote on the release of the data,” Hopson said in a letter to McQueen.

The state education department says it is holding off filing a similar suit against that district, for now. The Memphis district “is still deciding whether to comply, whereas Metro [Nashville] has made its decision already,” state spokeswoman Sara Gast said. “Given that, it is appropriate to file here and then review Shelby’s decision to decide if litigation is necessary.”

Shelby County Schools declined to share how many parents have chosen to opt out so far, but said it plans to share information with its board about the effort next week.

The fight has ignited long-simmering tensions around enrollment and the state’s influence in local schools, and comes on the heels of Metro Nashville Public Schools board voting to join Shelby County Schools in its landmark funding lawsuit against the state.

Memphis leaders have also said that the issue at hand is student privacy, though a robocall to Memphis parents indicated that the main goal of the opt-out process was not to lose students to charter schools.

Memphis’ compromise stance will be good news to groups like parent advocacy organization Memphis Lift, which says it has gathered about 1,200 parent signatures urging Shelby County Schools to release the contact information.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The legal questions at stake are the first challenge to a slight, but significant, amendment to federal rules

The Nashville school board cited two reasons for defying the state’s order in late August: One is U.S. Department of Education rule that allows districts to have discretion on who gets student directory information. The second was that when state lawmakers crafted the law that requires school districts to share student information, they did not intend for that information to be used for recruitment.

According to Frank LoMonte, a First Amendment lawyer and director of The Brechner Center at the University of Florida, said the lawsuit could have national implications.

“What we’re about to see is the first test of whether the U.S. Department of Education amended rules in 2011 are enforceable or not,” he said. What it comes down to, he said, is if a federal rule can give local districts the permission to violate state law.

The Nashville board’s second justification reflects concerns from State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a key House education committee. He says the state is misinterpreting the law he helped create.

The state said in a statement that Commissioner Candice McQueen is seeking to confirm her interpretation of the new state law, “ensuring that families can be informed of all public education opportunities available to them.”

Below is a copy of the state’s court filing: