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Students check their schedules during a transition at Fairley High School.

Students check their schedules in 2014 at Fairley High, a turnaround school in Memphis under Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

James Turner: Athletics can help IPS save more kids

(Chalkbeat talked with the 10 candidates running for a spot on the Indianapolis Public Schools board about their backgrounds, educational philosophies, and why and how they want to influence the school district if they are elected Nov. 4. To compare their positions against other candidates, visit our interactive election tracker.)

James Turner says he represents what Indianapolis Public Schools can do for kids.

As a young man, he thrived while attending Broad Ripple High School in part because of athletics, even though he came from a poor, single-parent household, and ended up graduating from college. He’s running for the school board to try to help other kids from the same backgrounds.

The former IPS graduation coach and dean, who now works as athletic director and dean at the Fall Creek Academy charter school, is running this fall for the District 3 seat on the IPS school board, against incumbent Samantha Adair-White and former school board member Kelly Bentley. The election is Nov. 4.

Here is what Turner told Chalkbeat about his background, goals for the district and thoughts on education issues.

Turner believes he wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for IPS. That’s why he came back to work at the district after graduating University of Central Oklahoma.

“I was raised by the district,” he said. “Teachers helped me, coaches helped me. They were really instrumental in me being how I am today. If it wasn’t for the mentors, the men that came from my background that made it and were successful, that motivated me to be successful, and if it wasn’t for sports, I wouldn’t be here. I felt like I was the IPS dream.”

He thinks IPS needs to invest heavily in its athletic programs.

“Athletes are held to a higher standard,” Turner said. “If it wasn’t for the eligibility rule, I’d had never made it into college. I’d be in the streets. Your coach would stay in touch with you to make sure you didn’t get into anything over the summer. Sports is a focal point of our state’s lifestyle. Sports is crime prevention. It’s a piece of the community. With this new administration talking about not investing as much in sports, it scares me.”

He thinks IPS should have separate middle schools for its seventh and eighth graders instead of combined middle and high schools.

“The reason why the junior high students are performing lower is because they’re put in a high school setting,” he said. “Anybody that says those two populations don’t mix haven’t been in an IPS school. That’s too much responsibility to put on a seventh grader, too many distractions. They’ve been put in a position to not succeed.”

As a dean at Arlington High School, Turner struggled daily with the balance between disciplining kids and keeping them out of the prison system.

“As a graduation coach, I was fighting for the kid not to go to the dean’s office,” Turner said. “When I was the dean, it was the total opposite. I’ve seen the pipeline to prison at the school level from my own eyes. You have a kid with no record that’s in school doing what they’re supposed to do. If they get in a fight, they should be suspended and sent home, not sent to juvenile (detention). That wore on me.”

He took a job at a charter school for personal reasons.

“At my last job at IPS, I was a 10-month employee,” he said. “You have 12 weeks that you don’t receive money. I could no longer live and take care of my family like I needed to. The opportunity came up to be athletic director here, which has always been one of my dreams, and there was a pay raise and an opportunity to be part of a leadership team again. That’s why I did it. It was a better opportunity for my family. I’m not against charter schools. I’m just 100 percent for IPS.”

He thinks the district offers more than charter schools and private schools.

“IPS has the capacity to serve the severely disabled, emotionally handicapped and kids with learning disabilities,” he said. “I don’t see any other school corporations, other than IPS and the township districts, that can support that population. Every school corporation should be held to the same standards if they’re taking public funding.”

Read more: Six critical questions the IPS school board race will answer

Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat and WFYI’s Oct. 23 education conversation event at the Indianapolis Public Library