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Departing state board member proud of ‘difficult conversations’ that led to change for Indiana kids

Scott Elliott

Sarah O’Brien, a teacher from Avon, announced she’d be stepping down from the Indiana State Board of Education earlier this month to better address her daughter’s medical care. Her last meeting will be in August. O’Brien was originally appointed to the board by former Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2009 and was made vice chairwoman of the board in 2015.

The decision to resign from the board is probably the most difficult decision I’ve made personally and professionally.

I don’t feel like our work is done. I still feel like there is still some really obviously important conversations ahead of us, and I think we have to be very vigilant about setting the path for where we want to be.

There really has been quite a shift from when I started to where we are now.

It was right after my daughter was born, actually. It would’ve been April of 2009. I actually started on the board before I even returned from my maternity leave — it was an odd transition, but an important one.

In seven-and-a-half years, there’s been such a scope of topics and really important decisions we’ve had to discuss and make.

Personally, the testing conversation has obviously been hugely impactful, and I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve forced some difficult conversations in the way that we use assessment, and more specifically, looking at (differences in paper-pencil vs. online scores) was a huge topic last year. I’m really proud … that we’re able to have that corrected so that it was the most accurate picture it could be for our students.

Read: Test format questions hold up state board vote on ISTEP passing scores

The other area I take the most pride is looking at the conversations we’ve had (about) turnaround schools and the schools that have been underperforming. I feel like throughout the duration of the time I’ve been there, at least we’ve been able to … force some real change in those areas so every student has the ability to attend a quality school.

Read: Ferebee pitches an IPS ‘transformation’ plan for troubled schools

I hope that it’s evident that every decision was made with kids in mind. It’s not always an easy decision, and sometimes we were making decisions that I know weren’t popular by any means, but I genuinely feel like every conversation we have had has been with kids at the forefront. I hope that continues to be the path.

Just because it’s uncomfortable for adults doesn’t mean it’s not the path that we need to take.

I’m leaving the board, but I’m not leaving the classroom. The decisions that are made still certainly impact my daily existence and my children’s as well.

I think some of the best advice and opinions and knowledge I have received (as a board member) are from people in the field who take the time to send their thoughts along. I think that’s such an important part of the process, and I think that’s something I absolutely hope continues.

One of the things I’ve appreciated most at a more personal level, is that I’ve been able to be more of a resource for my colleagues or people around me who don’t understand the political implications of the decisions that were made. I hope I can continue to clarify some of those things as they occur.

It’ll be difficult to be on the sidelines and watching from afar, but I definitely plan to stay involved.

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