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.
Washington Township achieved a milestone at the beginning of this school year: it became the first district in Indiana to offer International Baccalaureate curriculum to all its students, and just the sixth worldwide.
Like other township school districts in Marion County, Washington Township has also seen an increase in the number of poor families it serves, as well as an increase in students learning English as a second language. Updating curriculum and instruction to offer a more rigorous and internationally minded education to students was one way Superintendent Nikki Woodson said the district was adapting to its changing community.
Donald Kite and William Turner, who have both previously served on the school board, are running for their seats unopposed.
Candidates in this race discussed the issues recently on Amos Brown’s radio show.
Key school district data
- Enrollment: 11,161 students
- Ethnicity: 39 percent black, 32.8 percent white, 16.6 percent hispanic
- Poverty: 59.3 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch
- ISTEP math and English passing rate 2014: 71.1 percent
- 2012-13 graduation rate (most recent available): 81.5 percent
- Donald Bradley Kite Sr., attorney at Wuertz Law Office LLC in Indianapolis, running for re-election to District 2.
- William D Turner Jr., 54, Director, Education & Development Allison Transmission Inc., running for re-election to District 1.
Why did you choose to run for the school board?
Kite: I am proud of having been a part of Washington Township for many years, including serving on the school board for the last eight-plus years, and I would very much like to continue to be a part of the decision-making process regarding what I believe is our township’s bright future. My wife and I initially chose Washington Township because of the township’s many strengths including its diversity, its strong academics and its continued focus on the future. While my children are now grown, I very much wish to remain a part of one of the very best school districts in the state of Indiana. I am a committed parent, grandparent and community member who genuinely enjoys working with our township’s different constituencies, including the approximately 80 to 85 percent of township residents who do not currently have children in our schools, and with our township’s talented faculty, staff and administrators. I continue to believe that we are stronger when we work in partnership and I genuinely care about the entire township. I will continue to be objective and to work hard as a member of the board where consensus is important, but where board members have a responsibility to raise and consider different views.
Turner: I am running for re-election because I believe as a board and district we are starting to see improvements in areas of concern. Some of the initiatives that the district has put in place, such as the IB program for all schools, is starting to change the way that our students learn. I would like to be re-elected so that we can continue to help all of our students within our district to achieve at their highest level.
What issues will you focus on?
Kite: As a board member I have consistently focused on and advocated making decisions where the board’s first and foremost consideration is doing what is best for our 11,000-plus students. As a district, we are extremely proud of having recently been authorized as one of the United States’ only K-12 International Baccalaureate school districts, the authorization being the culmination of substantial efforts over a number of years by many fine educators. When I am re-elected (it is safe to say I will be reelected since I am unopposed), I and my fellow board members will continue to focus on doing what is best for our students, which includes eliminating barriers to student learning so that real educational opportunities are available to all of the children in our district. We must also continue to ensure that we are directing adequate resources to all of our students including those for whom English is not their first language and our students with special needs.
Turner: I will continue to focus on academic achievement for all students. We need to continue to close the gap between all groups of students and to make sure they continue to have equal access to learning. Another area of focus would be to continue to monitor all of our buildings. We have some buildings that were built in the 1960s, and at some point will need to have some work done, such as new roofs or heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. This type of work will not be inexpensive, so we as a district must constantly monitor the building conditions and find ways of maintaining them for the safety of our students. I would want to continue to work with making sure that our teachers have the tools they need to help their students have success.
What is the most important issue facing your district?
Kite: There is not one single important issue facing our school district and, unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to the many important issues that we are confronting together. We must continue to focus our efforts on eliminating the achievement gap, hiring and retaining the very best faculty and staff and making certain we have adequate resources, which includes our facilities, to do the important work of educating our students and keeping them safe. Being good stewards and making fiscally prudent decisions obviously means taking good care of and even improving — when it is necessary or prudent — our aging facilities.
Turner: One topic always comes up when you are working with a school district, and that is money. Money is important, but so is safety and building maintenance. However, the question is what I think the most important issue is for our district. I think there is still room to improve in closing the achievement gap and working to increase our ISTEP scores for our entire student population. I believe that IB’s inquiry-based learning will not only help with closing the gap, but also prepare our students for life. But to make this happen, we need a school board that works with the district, teachers, parents and, last but not least, the students. To me this is very important. We have an opportunity to positively touch and change young peoples’ lives, and to me that is important.
Anything else about yourself you’d like to share.
Kite: I am, and will continue to be, extremely passionate about our district and about public education as a whole. I do not focus exclusively on any one group of students or any one issue and am proud to say that I have been endorsed by both the Washington Township Parent Council and the Washington Township Education Association each of the three times that I have run for election to the school board.
During my years as a board member I have regularly attended many events throughout the district and over the course of the year, and not merely at the schools that my children attended when they were students in the township. While I hope that this demonstrates how I feel about our students and the district as a whole, I know that attending various events throughout the district allows me the opportunity to talk with parents, faculty, staff and administrators. I have been and will continue to be accessible to the township residents whether or not they presently have children in our schools. I genuinely love serving on the school board and have welcomed (and will continue to welcome) calls from and conversations with the members of our diverse community.
I sincerely believe that we ask a great deal of our teachers and that the board therefore must continue to seek teachers’ input and to consider how particular district policies and practices affect their vital work. Board members must also continue to seek input from other members of our community and to make fiscally responsible decisions.
Turner: I have a long history in Washington Township. I graduated from North Central High School, all three of my daughters attended Washington Township schools, and they also graduated from North Central, and my wife is a teacher at one of our elementary schools. I am truly vested in this community and want to see all of our students achieve all they can.
We have a great school district that strives for excellence in everything we do. This does not mean we are a perfect district. There are areas that we are always working to improve and are making some of those improvements. I would like to continue being a part of this continuous improvement because of my strong belief in the district from a personal perspective.
Answers have been edited for length.