As the newest member of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops has first-hand experience with many of the challenges families face. She is a first-generation Mexican American and a fluent Spanish speaker. She is the mother of a son with special needs. And she is the only current IPS parent on the board.
But Hoops, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, is reluctant to take on the mantle of spokesperson.
“I was appointed, and so I’m very aware of that too. I wasn’t elected by my district,” she said. “I am all these things, right — I am a parent; I am Spanish speaking; I am a parent with a special needs child; I am a woman. But more than anything, I have two ears and I am willing to listen.”
Hoops background reflects that of many in this country who feel their voices are not being heard by the new administration. But Hoops, who has long been interested in education, said President Donald Trump’s victory didn’t impact her decision to apply for the seat.
“My thinking is to try to be my best as a commissioner, and everyone else can decide how the different facets of me impact that,” said Hoops, who represents District 5, which runs along the the northwest corridor of the city.
Hoops’ interest in education stems from her own background as a student. She was raised by her mother, a single parent who emigrated from Mexico. As a child growing up in California, her mother worked 12-hour days at a restaurant to save up enough to buy a home and send her daughter to Catholic school. But Hoops always knew she would go to college.
“She really impressed upon me, school, school, school, even though she had at best a second- or third-grade education,” Hoops said. “To her, education was like my opportunity.”
Hoops did so well at University of California Davis that she won a full-ride scholarship for a masters in public policy at University of Michigan, and over a 13-year career in human resources, she rose to vice-president of a nonprofit with 600 employees. But when she and her husband realized their young son Cannon, who has cerebral palsy, would need dedicated care, Hoops decided to leave her job. Over the last decade, she has focused on raising Cannon, who is 12-years-old, and their four-year-old daughter, Avalon.
When Hoops and her family moved to Indianapolis in 2011, they enrolled Cannon at Center for Inquiry School 27. As the parent of a child with special needs, she has become an amateur expert at navigating the school system. She meets with a team of educators regularly to plan for his schooling and make sure he has the tools and assistance he needs to thrive. And she is so informed about the process that she has helped other parents access the resources available for students.
As a parent at School 27, Hoops has been an active member of the Parent Student Teacher Association. She helps recruit parents for the group, said Nailah Rowan, who is vice-president. And she was an essential advocate for redoing the nearby park.
Rowan said that she has the temperament to mediate contentious issues and recognize what problems are serious enough to need attention.
“She’s a very compassionate person, and she’s really understanding,” Rowan said.
Although she has a background in public policy, Hoops is not yet an education “policy wonk,” she said. But she’s been an attentive watcher of the district, and she is supportive of administration plans to give principals more flexibility and to partner with charter schools.
“These charter schools exist in the community,” she said. “The idea makes sense that you want to as a district to cooperate and work with them and learn from them.”