(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.)
The Columbus, Ohio, native originally came to the city to teach in Indianapolis Public Schools through Teach for America. She is backed by key school reform advocates, such as the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and the non-profit group Stand for Children for the District 5 seat. The election is Nov. 4.
Here is what Echols told Chalkbeat about her background, goals for the district and thoughts on education issues:
She attended a failing high school in St. Petersburg, Fla. after moving there as a teen.
“When I first came to high school we were an F school,” Echols said. “By the time I graduated we were a B. It’s the whole idea of turning around a perception, owning it. We didn’t like being a D or an F school. We wanted to prove to them that we’re better than that.”
Completing Teach for America at Indianapolis Public Schools was the hardest thing she’s ever done.
“I had a young lady come in late often,” she said. “I was thinking that she’s just being disrespectful. She was living in one bedroom apartment with six siblings, and she walked them to school. I was working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to get them where they needed to go. That was pulling them at lunch. That was doing extra curriculuars because I was terrified to have some of my kids walk home knowing some of the situations some of them are in.”
So she left to become a dean at Carpe Diem charter school.
“My role is to put out fires and support students,” said Echols, who organizes college fairs, teaches students how to fill out college and job applications, resolves disputes between students and meets with parents among other duties.
“We have some really difficult conversations with kids and parents, and we have ‘a-ha!’ moments,” she said. “It’s a big small family.”
School autonomy matters to her.
“The school leader is one of the most important pieces of school success,” Echols said. “If you have a strong leader that has a vision, loves the kids and does what he needs to do because of the kids, it will be great. Harshman Middle School was a perfect example. (Former principal Bob Guffin) trusted us to know what was best for our students. He was keen on bringing the community into the school. Our professional development he was very concerned about. Everybody on that ‘bus’ wanted to go in a certain direction. That’s how our students scored the highest in the city.”
She supports IPS’ push to reevaluate how teachers are paid.
“They definitely deserve a raise,” Echols said. “In terms of evaluations, we need to revisit how and why we’re doing it. Visiting a teacher once and considering it done is definitely not the best way to evaluate them. Being more strategic with professional development is key.”
She wants to see more kids in preschool.
“If we are really interested in growing this city of productive citizens, early childhood education is key,” she said. “As a board, if they have not done it already, they should be devising a plan to give to the General Assembly to figure out how we are going to do better by our children. It means pushing the elected officials, and I mean city as well as state representatives, to do what is needed for our children.”
Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat and WFYI’s Oct. 23 education conversation event at the Indianapolis Public Library