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Survey: Kelly Bentley believes better leadership can improve IPS

Kelly Bentley is running for a spot on the IPS school board.
Kelly Bentley is running for a spot on the IPS school board.
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.

Kelly Bentley served on the IPS school board for 12 years before deciding to step aside in 2010. She is one of the founding members of Indianapolis’ now-defunct chapter of Democrats for Education Reform. She is an Indianapolis native and graduated from Broad Ripple High School. She is seeking the District 3 school board seat against Samantha Adair-White and James Turner.

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?

Dr. Ferebee is making some bold, necessary moves to ensure the long-term success of IPS. During his first few months on the job he went to the statehouse to advocate for more flexibility for IPS. And he has shown a willingness to reduce the central office bureaucracy, remove ineffective leaders and reject the status quo. Unlike prior superintendents, he has made these changes collaboratively, working with schools, parents, business partners and community leaders. I appreciate that level of commitment and the fact that he knows we have to work together to solve the district’s problems.

In the future, the board and Dr. Ferebee need to work in partnership to create a vision for the district, and to develop policies and a budget to support that vision. The board should only budget for the core mission of the district: creating and maintaining high-quality K-12 schools that serve students in our community.

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

No.

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?

With shrinking enrollments and revenue, it is critically important to fundamentally change the management structure in IPS in order to drive more resources to schools and classrooms. Nationally, about a little over half of K-12 dollars make it to the classroom, and this is unacceptable. When teachers have not had a raise for 6 years and don’t have the resources they need to educate their students, we must look at ways to cut administrative and other non-instructional costs without sacrificing quality. We need to redefine the role of the central administration in order to maximize the dollars spent directly on classroom instruction and ensure that our teachers and students have the resources they need.

3. Should the school district partner with charter schools?

Yes.

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

IPS has many wonderful schools and IPS has many schools that are steadily improving. But IPS has some schools that have shown no improvement for years. If we can partner with high quality charter schools in order to better serve our children, then we need to explore these options. We cannot exist in a world defined by terminology, and we are not putting students first if we’re more concerned about a label than their education. As far as I’m concerned, we’re working toward great schools. I believe IPS can provide those great school options in every neighborhood, but we need to work collaboratively to do so.

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

No.

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

Rather than spending valuable time and energy in a legislative battle to overturn vouchers, I plan to spend my time working with my colleagues on the board, and with the administration, to improve IPS schools by advocating for additional funding for leadership development, preschool, all-day kindergarten, summer school and intercession programs, and to help pay our best teachers and school principals more money. I also plan to advocate for free textbooks for all IPS students. We live in a city where parents and students have many options. We have to make sure IPS is at the top of their list because our schools are worth choosing. Vouchers aren’t going anywhere, and we cannot pretend that they do not exist as an option for parents.

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 think IPS needs to partner with any and all organizations that are interested in helping the district better meet the needs of our students. IPS must fundamentally change and we cannot manage this change without the expertise of many outside organizations. Collaboration isn’t a bad thing especially when the result of the collaboration helps kids.

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

We need to look at the physical needs of the district and determine whether IPS really needs all of the infrastructure and property it presently retains. We must also determine whether we can direct more dollars to the classroom by partnering with outside vendors to provide certain district-wide services. And we need to continue to look for ways to shrink the central office bureaucracy in order to drive more decision-making authority and resources to the schools. Bottom line: We have to do more to retain our best teachers. Right now, they can make more money in surrounding townships and that’s unacceptable.

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

I believe test score growth should be used as part of a teacher’s performance evaluation and Indiana law now requires this, but I do not know what the percentage should be. I believe IPS must work collaboratively with teachers, principals and experts in this area in order to design an objective and fair evaluation system that includes student academic growth.

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?

I am a strong supporter of giving school leaders and teachers more school level decision-making authority in exchange for objective accountability. But in order for this to work, we need great leaders in every school. We have to make sure they are trained effectively to manage their schools and develop great teachers in every classroom. School leaders need to have the autonomy both to reward outstanding work and hold accountable those who are not meeting expectations. We need to be willing to explore effective partnerships with community groups, service providers, other governmental entities and others to meet the needs of the students in these schools and provide intensive support. We also need to be willing to explore partnerships with high quality charter schools that might better meet the needs of the students in these low performing schools.

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?

Not to be a broken record, but if we hire and empower great school leaders and put every available dollar directly into classroom instruction, our teachers and students will have the resources they need to succeed. We need to give our school leaders and teachers the freedom to make decisions that could benefit the students they serve.

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?

I believe it is critically important to change the management structure of the district to make sure that excellent people, schools and programs are not being suffocated by a bureaucracy that resists innovation and change. IPS has some wonderful schools and great school leaders and teachers, but they need the freedom to make decisions that could benefit the students they serve.

We need to create a career path in public education that leads to the schools, not away from them. Our school leaders should be the highest paid positions in the district.

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

I have lived in Indianapolis my entire life and I love my city, but in order for Indianapolis to be a city where people want to live, we need strong, healthy neighborhoods. Strong healthy neighborhoods have great public schools.

I served on the IPS Board from 1998-2010. When I chose not to run in 2010 I had grown frustrated and disillusioned with my colleagues on the board and the previous administration. There was little or no accountability, little or no transparency and there seemed to be no sense of urgency or acknowledgement that the district needed to fundamentally change. Two things have changed; new board members were elected in 2012 who are progressive and passionate about the need for bold transformative change in the district, and we have a new superintendent who seems to be willing to shake things up.

There are many excellent schools in IPS, but too many of our neighborhoods lack any high-quality educational options. Last year 27 out of 67 schools received a C or higher (18 received an A or B), but 38 out of 67 schools were graded a D or lower.

It is unacceptable that students in any part of our city lack access to a high-quality school. We need to support and promote the schools that work, and provide intensive support to others to help them improve.

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