Politics & Policy

IPS names newest board member: A Center for Inquiry parent who speaks Spanish fluently

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
School 27

A parent at School 27 who speaks Spanish fluently will be the newest member of the Indianapolis Public Schools board — and the only member with a child enrolled in the district.

The current board chose Dorene Rodriguez Hoops by a 4-2 vote to fill the vacancy created by LaNier Echols’ surprise resignation last month. The other candidates, Michael Brown and Eugene Hawkins, each received one vote.

A native of California, Hoops has lived in Indianapolis since 2011. She is a first-generation Mexican American who has a background running human resources for a large nonprofit.

Hoops will represent District 5, which includes the northwest side of the school district, and she will serve some heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. That is one reason why board member Kelly Bentley said she voted for Hoops.

“We heard loud and clear the last time we filled a position that we needed some Hispanic representation,” Bentley said. “She’s got a big background in human resources that I think will benefit the board and the district, and she’s a parent in the district of a special needs student, which I think is going to be really important as well.”

Although several board members have relatives who attend IPS, Hoops will be the only board member with a child enrolled in the district when she starts in January. Her son attends School 27, a Center for Inquiry magnet on the near north side.

A parent organizer from the group Stand for Children, which trains parents to advocate for their children and endorses board candidates, also highlighted Hoops Latina background.

“Like so many students in IPS, Dorene has had to overcome the challenges of learning in a non-native language,” Cesar Roman said in a statement. “She’s faced the struggles that go along with being from an immigrant family and having to assimilate into a culture, all while trying to take full advantage of her educational opportunities.”

Hoops could not immediately be reached for comment. When she interviewed for the seat last week, Hoops said her work advocating for her son, who has special needs, has increased her commitment in ensuring that every child has access to a good school.

“I really am passionate about ensuring that all children of all backgrounds and abilities have the educational experience that they need in order to make the choices that they want to make in the future,” she told the board.

One of the other candidates vying for the seat was Michael Brown, a 16-year veteran of the board who lost his seat to Echols in 2014. Board member Gayle Cosby, who did not run for reelection, said she voted for Brown because of his experience on the board.

Echols, who was not up for reelection until 2018, told Chalkbeat just hours ahead of the November election that she planned to resign. Cosby said that Echols should have resigned earlier in the year so the position could appear on the ballot.

“I believe that had that seat been elected in an election that Mike Brown would’ve been a clear choice,” she said. “He, in my opinion, was a clear choice based on his many years of experience to the board.”

Michael O’Connor, who was chosen last year to fill a school board seat midterm, said there is a steep learning curve for board members who are appointed rather than elected.

“If you are running for a full term, you are getting up to speed on issues that the board is facing because you are going to forums and other stuff,” O’Connor said. “This is drinking from a fire hose.”

2018

Salazar won’t run in governor’s race featuring strong education storylines

PHOTO: Denver Post File
Former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Ken Salazar’s decision not to run for Colorado governor takes one prominent Democrat out of a still-developing campaign that promises to prominently feature public education as an issue.

The former U.S. senator and interior secretary cited family reasons for his decision to sit out the 2018 Democratic primary. Salazar, who is closely involved in raising a granddaughter who has autism, could have been a voice on public education for children with disabilities.

In a Denver Post commentary explaining why isn’t running, Salazar took a broad view of the challenges in education.

“Colorado’s education crisis needs to be solved from pre-kindergarten to college,” Salazar wrote. “It is sad that Colorado has defunded higher education and abandoned the great tradition of leading the nation with our great colleges and universities.”

Salazar’s announcement could set other plans in motion quickly in the Democratic field.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a prominent education reformer, and entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, CEO of Intertech Plastics, have already announced they are running.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada told the Denver Post on Thursday the “chances are very good” he will run, and could declare his candidacy soon.

Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy said she is seriously considering running, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder said he has not ruled it out, according to the Post.

Among the Republicans mulling a run: District Attorney George Brauchler, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

how's it going?

She’s no Tony Bennett or Glenda Ritz — Jennifer McCormick is charting her own course as Indiana’s schools chief

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

For years, Indiana’s state superintendents have made huge political waves while in office.

Tony Bennett was a major Republican proponent of choice-based education reform. Democrat Glenda Ritz led an administration filled with political clashes with then-Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch conservative.

But this could be changing with Indiana’s newest schools chief, Jennifer McCormick.

More than two months into her administration and more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, educators and advocates are praising McCormick’s focus and remain optimistic about her tenure.

“The general perception is people are finding her and her staff are good to work with,” said Betsy Wiley, head of the Indiana Institute for Quality Education, a local school reform organization that made large donations to McCormick’s campaign. “I think she’s been working really hard on making sure people know that her door is open.”

As a Republican official taking office under a Republican governor, McCormick is better positioned politically to accomplish her goals. Her relationship with Gov. Eric Holcomb has appeared relatively tension-free so far. They’ve made joint announcements about state initiatives related to STEM education and workforce development, and McCormick has been on-board with his budget proposal.

McCormick said that so far, there has been lots of talking.

“We’re not always going to agree, but at least the conversations are happening,” she said. “We have our hands and eyes and voice in a lot of the education bills that we’re concerned about, so we’ve been right there at the table offering amendments” to legislators.

But mostly, McCormick has been quiet when it comes to public state policy debates.

“I think she’s learning the ropes, and rightly so,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “She and her team are working closely with the state board, so I consider it very good — No controversy of any kind.”

Yet McCormick’s approach doesn’t sit as well with Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. He said he’s worried she’s leaving too much power to top GOP lawmakers in charge of education and not taking enough initiative at the department of education.

“I’m not familiar with any of the work that she’s doing,” he said. “The work that is happening on education is happening in the House and Senate chambers … If it’s her aim to just be ‘go along, get along, whatever Rep. Behning says or Sen. Kruse says is A-OK,’ I don’t know that she’s going to have a major role to play.”

Bosma and Pelath’s difference in opinion reflects some of the debates occurring in the Indiana General Assembly this year about whether to make the state superintendent an appointed or elected position. Part of the conversation inevitably centers around how people view McCormick’s role and it’s purpose.

It’s not clear yet if McCormick will step forward with ideas of her own or be more of an administrator who solely implements the policies of lawmakers, which GOP leaders repeatedly. But she has supported Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to make the role an appointed one.

McCormick has testified once this year before the Indiana Senate. During that hearing last week, she expressed concerns about testing and teacher evaluation that routinely were dismissed when Ritz was in charge, such as advocating for “computer-adaptive” tests. She also told senators there should be more conversations about how test scores are tied into teacher evaluations and whether that provision should be removed.

McCormick isn’t — and never has been — in lockstep with other Republicans on education policy. That was clear during her campaign, when, despite having mostly school choice advocates and Republicans as donors, she disagreed with GOP policies and instead advocated for changes to the school funding formula and seriously evaluating the impact of state-funded vouchers for private school.

Wiley said that although McCormick hasn’t shown herself to be an aggressive supporter of all school choice policies, such as vouchers, Wiley still thinks her organization made a good investment in backing her.

“She knows she has at least four years in that role, and she intends to do and get stuff done,” Wiley said. “If she doesn’t get credit for it along the way, I just don’t think she cares.”

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from school leaders that they’re seeing more timely responses to phone calls and emails with the department of education.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she’s appreciated the time McCormick has made to talk with ISTA members, and she has no reason to believe she’s not going to support public schools — she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Despite accusations during her campaign that she’d be too much like her Republican predecessor, Bennett, McCormick has not aligned herself with one particular education philosophy or camp. David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said that independence is admirable.

“She is clearly her own woman, and I think there were some expectations,” Harris said. “She has been pretty clear that she’s going to follow the agenda and approach that she thinks is best.”