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Kelly Bentley: IPS needs to meet public’s demand for great schools

(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.)

Kelly Bentley was frustrated four years ago when she decided not to run for another term on the Indianapolis Public Schools Board.

She was frequently butting heads with then-Superintendent Eugene White and a strong majority on the board who backed his policies. But today, the district has new leadership — both on the school board and in Superintendent Lewis Ferebee — that she believes is more open to rethinking how IPS is run. That inspired her to run again.

Bentley, who grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from Broad Ripple High School and sent her children to IPS schools, is a founding member of Indiana’s now-defunct chapter of the Democrats for Education Reform. She is running this fall against incumbent Samantha Adair-White and charter school athletic director and dean James Turner for IPS’ District 3 seat. The election is Nov. 4.

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

The issues in this school board election are similar to the last time she ran eight years ago.

“It ebbs and flows,” she said. “People get apathetic and people get more excited about change. Parents are more concerned about testing than they were eight years ago, which is a legitimate concern. They were concerned about the number of schools that aren’t succeeding, the graduation rate. That hasn’t changed. There was the same kind of excitement around having new leadership.”

She doesn’t think the amount of money in school board elections is concerning.

“Moving the elections from the spring to the fall has changed things,” Bentley said. “There’s a lot more voters you have to reach. There are a lot of people that have a renewed interest in education. I”m not going to apologize for raising money. That’s what you do when you’re a candidate. Money allows you to reach voters and that’s the name of the game.”

She doesn’t want to be “pigeonholed” as a reformer. 

It’s time to coalesce, work collaboratively and get the district moving forward,” she said. “I’m passionate about public education. We’ve got to stop pigeonholing people, stop the name-calling, and start working with anybody and everybody who wants to help our kids succeed.”

Bentley thinks IPS needs to be decentralized.

“We’ve created this education structure that encourages people to leave the schools,” she said. “That’s where their career path takes them, into some anonymous cubicle in 120 E. Walnut St. We need to revise that. The highest paid people in a school district should be the building principals. I don’t think you need to have an advanced degree to push papers or to coordinate magnet options. Our best people need to be in schools.”

Bentley wants more great school options on the North side of the district, including the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood.

“A significant number of families doesn’t send their kids to IPS,” she said. “That’s a huge challenge. The district has done a very poor job of asking parents what they want and trying to give it to them. The Center for Inquiry at School 84 has been a huge success. When you’ve got that much demand for a program, you need to try to meet that demand.”

Grade configuration of middle and high schools in the district concerns her.

“Creating the sixth through 12th grade and seventh through 12th grade schools was the biggest mistake ever. Those were facility-driven decisions. Kindergarten through eighth grade schools is what families want. I was not supportive of it, but I think I may have voted for it because I didn’t see another option.”

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