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Survey: LaNier Echols would push for school choice, working with charter schools

LaNier Echols
LaNier Echols
Hayleigh Colombo

Chalkbeat asked the 10 candidates running for an Indianapolis Public School Board to answer a survey about their positions on issues facing the district and its students. Below is one response. If you want to see how these answers compare to other candidates, please visit our interactive election tracker at in.chalkbeat.org/ipselection2014.

LaNier Echols is a dean at Carpe Diem Meridian charter school. She was previously a teacher at three IPS schools through Teach for America, where she became interested in education reform ideas to help turn around schools. She is a native of Columbus, Ohio. She is running in District 5 against Michael Brown.

1. Do you support the direction of the school district under Superintendent Lewis Ferebee?

Yes.

What, if anything, do you like about Ferebee’s leadership of the district? What would you change?

I have had a conversation with Dr. Ferebee and I am in agreement with the direction that he has taken thus far. He is strong supporter of community partnerships with parents, pastors and local leaders to enrich the lives of all the children in Indianapolis. I strongly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and his approach reflects that kind of commitment to our students.

2. Do you believe the operation of IPS’ central office is efficient?

Yes.

What is your opinion of the efficiency of IPS’ central office operations? How much money should be spent outside the classroom on high-level district operations?

IPS is in need of significant change. While there are examples of success, many students do not have access to a quality education that ensures they are ready for success after graduation. Too often, the central office bureaucracy gets in the way of good teaching and learning at the school level. As a former IPS teacher, I saw that disconnect firsthand. The district must select strong school leaders and give them the flexibility to make more school-based decisions, and empower them to seek innovative solutions.

3. Should the school district partner with charter schools?

Yes.

Do you support the House Bill 1321 “innovation network” law? What is the ideal relationship between the district and a charter school operator?

As a school leader of a successful school with that uses an innovative blended learning model, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when educators are empowered to try something new and effective. As a board member, I would strongly advocate for using the tools of House Bill 1321 to help students and families in low-performing schools. I would work with successful charter management organizations to share operational resources and lease vacant IPS buildings. Every single student deserves access to a great education, and I’m in favor of school models and policies that go towards attaining that goal. If we are going to build a school district that succeeds in every neighborhood, we are going to have to collaborate and think outside the box.

4. Do you support the state’s voucher program?

Yes.

If yes, why do you support vouchers? If not, would you propose ending it?

I am in support of the school voucher program because I believe parents should have a choice in where their child goes to school. Most parents already exercise this choice by living in a certain school district. Others make choices based on their faith. Ultimately, a school exists to provide a quality education for students. That mission doesn’t change based on school type. We must accept that school choice is a reality for parents and students, and we must work as a district to ensure that families are proudly choosing IPS.

5. The district is moving toward more partnerships with outside groups like The Mind Trust and Stand for Children. Do you support stronger partnerships with school reform organizations?

Yes.

If not, why not? If yes, what would you envision those partnerships with charter school organizations look like?

I would work with successful charter management organizations to share operational resources and lease vacant IPS buildings. Furthermore, I would advocate for opportunities that empower great teachers and administrators in the district to design their own solutions to our problems of inequality. Every single student deserves access to a great education, and I’m in favor of school models and policies that support that goal.

6. Teachers haven’t received a pay raise in several years. What budget changes, if any, would you support to make this happen?

As a former IPS teacher, I know IPS employs many talented, hardworking teachers who go above and beyond for their students. I would like to see IPS to not only recognize and reward talented teachers, but further empower them to develop innovative solutions to the problems of educational inequity. Pay raises should be part of that.

7. What percentage of a teacher’s performance evaluation score should be based on student test score growth?

I believe we must look at a wide array of measures to determine success. We must consider student performance on state tests, rigorous evaluation of teachers by qualified personnel and teacher, parent, and student satisfaction.

8. The state takeover process has been scrutinized recently. What’s your proposal for how to improve schools that have been rated an F for six straight years?

We have many examples of traditional public, public charter and private schools that are doing an amazing job educating our children. With this, we need to learn from and work with these schools. Partnerships should be wide-ranging from shared professional development from a dynamic organization to complete management of the school. There are great examples of successful schools within IPS, and we need to leverage these resources and replicate what they are doing. We are not going to be able to build a great school district until we break down institutional silos and start sharing best practices and information with each other.

9. Ferebee has identified 11 low-performing priority schools to receive extra support and resources. What is your vision for how to improve IPS’ low-performing schools?

Echols submitted the same answer from question 8 for this question.
10. What is your vision for how schools within the district should be governed? What role should principals and their assistants have in leading schools?

Giving school leaders the autonomy to lead a team that he or she establishes will better allow them to create a positive culture/learning environment for the students. School leaders should be given authority to create metrics and the power to review and take steps to change curriculum, budget and culture. I would advocate for opportunities that empower great teachers and administrators in the district to design their own solutions to our problems of inequality.

11. What didn’t we ask? Tell us about your platform, or another issue you’re passionate about.

I see four main roles for the school board:

1) Be advocates –Board members must be advocates for the communities for which they represent. Members should leverage their networks and connections to forge new partnerships and opportunities to better serve the children of Indianapolis. Ultimately, we are advocates for the children and will ensure that every decision has the child’s best interest at heart.

2) Provide accountability – It is essential that board members hold individuals that are placed in appointed positions accountable. This includes principals, staff and the superintendent. In return, the board must be accountable for whatever takes place in the district. This includes test scores and teacher evaluations, as well as long- and short-term goals.

3) Craft vision – Board members, along with the superintendent, create the vision of the district. The school board crafts the culture through this vision and goals set forth. If we say that children come first, then as a board, every decision made must have the student in mind.

4) Provide boundaries – It is imperative that the school board creates or adopts initiatives that effectively and efficiently manage our district. These boundaries serve as a guideline to allow our superintendent to manage people and not the board. However, the board should not micro-manage the implementation.

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