Survey: Mary Ann Sullivan argues charter-like autonomy would benefit IPS schools

Chalkbeat asked the 10 candidates running for an Indianapolis Public School Board to answer a survey about their positions on  issues facing the district and its students. Below is one response. If you want to see how these answers compare to other candidates, please visit our interactive election tracker at

Mary Ann Sullivan was a Democratic member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 2009 to 2012, serving an Indianapolis district. In 2012, she unsuccessfully ran for an Indiana Senate seat. As a member of the House, she was often the lone Democrat voting in favor of school reform bills, such as the expansion of charter schools and an overhaul of teacher evaluation. She is seeking an at-large seat on the IPS board and running against Annie Roof, Ramon Batts, David Hampton and Josh Owens.

1. Do you support the direction of the school district under Superintendent Lewis Ferebee?


What, if anything, do you like about Ferebee’s leadership of the district? What would you change?

My experience with Dr. Ferebee has been limited, but my impression is that he is a thoughtful, collaborative, optimistic and strategic leader. I hope that he continues to keep an open-mind to new ideas and not fall back into a more conventional posture as superintendent.

2. Do you believe the operation of IPS’ central office is efficient?


What is your opinion of the efficiency of IPS’ central office operations? How much money should be spent outside the classroom on high-level district operations?

My personal experience has been that the IPS central office does not operate efficiently. The recent Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce/IPS report, 2013 Operational Analysis, makes several recommendations aimed at improving real estate, information technology, human resources and financial management efficiency. I support a central office designed to be responsive to school needs, rather than to manage schools from downtown.

The amount of money spent outside the classroom should be driven by school needs, and should not be limited to direct services from central administration.

3. Should the school district partner with charter schools?


Do you support the House Bill 1321 “innovation network” law? What is the ideal relationship between the district and a charter school operator?

Yes, I testified in support of House Bill 1321 during the last legislative session.

Any relationship between the district and a charter operator would be entered into first and foremost to benefit students. It would be a true partnership, with clear roles, responsibilities, expectations, transparency and accountability on all sides. Ideally, successful practices developed in such a relationship would be shared with other interested schools.

4. Do you support the state’s voucher program?


If yes, why do you support vouchers? If not, would you propose ending it?

Although I voted against establishing the state’s voucher program as a state legislator, I would not work to end it as an IPS board member. My focus on the IPS board will be to improve the district and create more high-quality IPS schools. I will direct my time and energy to ensuring that IPS provides the right conditions for school success: adequate resources from the state, autonomous schools, strong school leaders and effective teachers, healthier environments for children, better family and community engagement, more efficient operations, a culture of collaboration, support for innovation, etc.

5. The district is moving toward more partnerships with outside groups like The Mind Trust and Stand for Children. Do you support stronger partnerships with school reform organizations?


If not, why not? If yes, what would you envision those partnerships with charter school organizations look like?

I would welcome partnerships with any outside groups dedicated to improving educational opportunities for children in IPS. I would support real partnerships, where all parties have a stake and a role in decision-making. We need to come to an understanding that we are all working toward the goal of providing students with the best educational opportunities possible. I believe those opportunities can and should be in IPS, but we cannot reach that goal if we are more worried about a school type than serving students.

6. Teachers haven’t received a pay raise in several years. What budget changes, if any, would you support to make this happen?

Good teachers deserve to be paid well or we will continue to lose them. We need to restructure the compensation model to expand the impact of our best teachers. Since teacher salaries and benefits make up about 90 percent of the IPS general fund expenditures, it is clear that options for increasing pay are limited under current conditions.

In the near term, I would make sure the district is operating at peak efficiency in all other budget areas and apply any savings towards the classroom. I would advocate for increased education funding from the state, and I would engage teaches in developing new models for compensation.

7. What percentage of a teacher’s performance evaluation score should be based on student test score growth?

I am a proponent of adopting the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) or a TAP-like system in IPS. TAP is a system that improves teacher quality by providing educators with multiple career paths, and aligns professional development with instructional practice informed by data on student performance. Teachers are compensated based on their performance within that system. In this type of system, the exact percentage that student growth should play in teacher performance evaluations should be determined by the teachers, but should be significant enough to drive informed instructional practice focused on student achievement.

8. The state takeover process has been scrutinized recently. What’s your proposal for how to improve schools that have been rated an F for six straight years?

I don’t believe in one-size fits all solutions, but I would say that any efforts to turnaround, restart or otherwise address persistently failing schools must involve better family and community engagement from the start. Within the school, there must be strong leadership, a clear mission and purpose, shared values, high expectations and a no-excuses attitude toward student success.

9. Ferebee has identified 11 low-performing priority schools to receive extra support and resources. What is your vision for how to improve IPS’ low-performing schools?

As a proponent of autonomous schools, I do not have a single vision for improvement. Rather, I believe that certain conditions need to exist at the school level in order for low-performers to improve. Extra support and resources must be responsive to the needs of the adults and children in buildings, and not imposed upon them from the central administration.

10. What is your vision for how schools within the district should be governed? What role should principals and their assistants have in leading schools?

I support maximum autonomy and flexibility at the school level, in return for accountability for results — a more charter-like relationship between individual schools and the district administration.

11. What didn’t we ask? Tell us about your platform, or another issue you’re passionate about.

I firmly believe that IPS could be the best urban district in the country, if the board and superintendent can take full advantage of the positive education synergies the Indianapolis community has to offer. This is a historic time for the district. The board needs individuals who have the experience, understanding and courage to make this happen.