Guy Russell has had a long history with Indianapolis Public Schools, and he wanted answers today from newly-elected Indianapolis Public School Board member Mary Ann Sullivan.
“Something is wrong (in schools),” he told Sullivan. “And as the adults we cannot continue to allow that environment to exist.”
Russell and five others attended a “board chat” tonight hosted by Sullivan at Indy Reads Books. The meeting was the first of three public events being held by the just-elected board members. Events introducing Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols are upcoming. Bentley also attended tonight’s event for Sullivan.
Russell, a member of IPS’ alumni association board, said he was mostly concerned with the board’s decision last month to move the law and public policy magnet program from Shortridge High School to Arsenal Tech High School and then move the International Baccalaureate program from Gambold Preparatory High School to Shortridge.
More than the move itself, Russell told Sullivan the district handled it was wrong. District officials, he said, should have held more community meetings before coming to the decision, and administrative deadlines weren’t a reason for excluding the community.
“We didn’t have any idea that things were going to transpire as fast as they did,” Russell said. “(Superintendent Lewis Ferebee) basically ran out of calendar.”
Although Sullivan and Bentley said they both supported the board’s decision to shift programs, they agreed communication was a problem, and called for changes to the process in the future.
“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who thinks that was handled well,” Sullivan said. “Because nobody should be blindsided by something so significant.”
Sullivan and Bentley also mentioned other changes they’d like to pursue, such as finding better strategies to retain and pay teachers, making sure strong principals remain in the schools they’ve helped build and making it easier for families to apply for IPS magnet programs.
“We need to spend time asking families and the community what they want and actually listen to them,” Bentley said.
Russell and others also discussed how IPS was competing for students with other Marion County public schools, charter schools and private schools. The new board members said making IPS stronger through better relationships in the community would help it compete better.
“We have to create a culture in the schools where the norm and expectation is that students are going to college and they are going to be successful,” Sullivan said. “That’s the default where you start from, not the exception. Right now, it’s the exception.”
The next board chat, with Echols, will be tonight from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., at The Underground at the Harrison Center for the Arts, 1505 N. Delaware St. E-mail: EcholsForEducation@gmail.com. A board chat featuring Bentley will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the College Avenue Library Branch, 4180 N. College Ave. E-mail: info@BentleyforIPS.com