IPS At-Large School Board Race

Mary Ann Sullivan defeats school board president Annie Roof

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Mary Ann Sullivan, who was elected to the Indianapolis Public School Board in 2014, is expected to be named board president Friday.

Former Democratic state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan defeated the school board president and three other challengers running for the citywide at-large seat on the Indianapolis Public School Board in a blowout win tonight.

Sullivan had pulled away with nearly half the votes cast — 46 percent — with according to final, unofficial results from the Marion County Board of Elections, easily beating Annie Roof, who had 20 percent. Roof will exit the board after a four-year term that began after an upset win in 2010.

Sullivan, perhaps the most high profile Democrat to favor accountability and school choice as education reforms when she was in the legislature, was endorsed by advocacy groups that want IPS to move faster to make changes. Since 2012, the board increasingly favored ideas like school autonomy, a slimmed down central office and partnerships with charter schools. She defeated Roof, who advocated for changes in the district as a candidate in 2010 but lately has since distanced herself from some of the changes Sullivan and a new majority on the school board are pushing for.

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Sullivan

“I’m extremely excited,” Sullivan said. “There is no shortage of work to be done. Priorities are something we’ll have to determine collectively.”

Splitting the rest of the votes in the low-turnout competition were three other challengers: Light of the World Pastor David Hampton earned 17 percent, Pastor and IPS coach Ramon Batts earned 9 percent and Butler University economics instructor Josh Owens earned 7 percent of the votes.

The campaign was marked by clashes over money, with candidates like Sullivan raising large sums. Sullivan raised more than $50,000 from people in Indianapolis and across the country. Roof, by contrast had support from the Indiana State Teachers Association, even though IPS teachers haven’t had a raise during her tenure on the board, but that only brought a $1,500 contribution.

Overall Roof raised about $4,200 while vowing not to accept out-of-state money. Advocacy group Stand for Children even ran its own campaigns for the three candidates it endorsed — Sullivan, Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols — but did not disclose how much it spent.

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Roof

“It’s no secret that when you run solid campaigns it benefits the candidates,” Sullivan said. “We had the resources to run solid campaigns. That’s important.”

Sullivan, Roof, Hampton and Owens favored some of the same approaches to tackling district issues like restructuring teacher pay and improving failing schools. But Roof, who has often voted in favor of those ideas, said she has become more skeptical about working with charters and for-profit companies. She also said she didn’t like the amount of standardized testing in schools today.

Roof, a parent of three IPS students, could not immediately be reached for comment tonight.

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Hampton

The one flat-out skeptic in the at-large race was Batts, who previously ran for school board seats. He said he adamantly opposes closer ties between IPS and charter schools, and the idea of creating autonomous IPS schools. He’s also skeptical of the Republican-controlled state legislature, and Ferebee’s friendliness to groups he believes want to dismantle the district.

To find out more about Mary Ann Sullivan’s views on education and IPS issues, check out her responses to Chalkbeat’s election candidate survey.

To view live election results, click here.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.