Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.
Ahmed Young is the city’s new education director under Mayor Joe Hogsett. He grew up mostly in Washington, D.C., before moving to Indianapolis when his mother took a job at Indiana University. We met with him earlier this month to talk about his plans for his new job. Here’s his story:
One of the first lessons from my mom I can remember was to find something to do for someone else on your birthday. On my birthday, I would go to Mrs. Pearsall’s house and ask if I can take out the trash or rake leaves or something. She is just an advocate for people. That was her initial entree into education. She got a degree in early childhood education and was a kindergarten teacher. She was our advocate growing up. She filled whatever holes there was in our education. You could not say the B word: “bored.” She found some activity for us to learn.
I came here to go to Indiana University. I was in a fantastic program called Project Team that focused on multicultural education. I studied teaching and cultural competency. As I finished up the teacher education program, I did student teaching at Broad Ripple High School and got hired. Then moved to Craig Middle School in Lawrence Township. I had a great building leader, Bill Gavaghan, who gave me space to grow and learn from failures as a new teacher.
I met my wife though Upward Bound through IUPUI. I was running it and she was a last-minute hire as a counselor. I was her boss. The roles have flipped, I can assure you. She moved to New York City, so after four years in Lawrence Township, I moved there too.
I interviewed with New York City Department of Education. The lady said, “I have the perfect principal in the Bronx.” There I met Andrea Cypress, who ran the School for Inquiry and Social Justice. I had done so much reading on social justice in education, I figured it was meant to be. She said, “Can you do a lesson tomorrow?” I did and the students got into it. The one student who didn’t was a student of mine the next year. I still remember his name. Milton. I still remember him.
I liked the challenge of law school. My father-in-law, Judge (David) Shaeed highly recommended it. I got a scholarship and law school provided all the challenges I expected: intellectual challenges, time management challenges, life balance challenges. But it was great to have the support system of both my families.
It feels like I am drinking water from the fire hydrant now. They have a great team at the Office of Education Initiatives. I want to learn from them and find ways to advocate for fully funded preschool education. I want to go to the Statehouse and make the case to get fully funded preschool education statewide. We appreciate the pilot program but it’s the tip of the iceberg.