Township school board races

Lawrence Township candidates want to expand opportunities for students, ensure safety

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

This is one of 10 school board races in Marion County. Check back with Chalkbeat Indiana throughout the week for more information on the other candidates

 

District snapshot

Lawrence Township, in Northeast Indianapolis, is the second largest township school district in the city, one of six large townships that together serve more than half of the children attending traditional public schools. Like several of the large township districts, Lawrence has undergone rapid changes in recent years, including growth in the percentage of poor children and black and Hispanic children at rate faster than most of Marion County school districts. The district’s graduation rate and test scores have been on the rise over the past four years, but both are below the state average. The district, overall, was rated a B the last three years.

Candidates in this race discussed the issues recently on Amos Brown’s radio show.

Key school district data

  • Enrollment: 14,871 students
  • Ethnicity: 40.9 percent black, 31.7 percent white, 18.7 percent Hispanic
  • Eligible for free and reduced-price lunch: 61.4 percent
  • ISTEP math and English passing rate 2014: 66.8 percent
  • 2012-13 graduation rate (most recent available): 87 percent

Candidates

  • April Adjei, 56, teacher, running for election in District 2.
  • Richard Freije Jr., 55, attorney at Faegre Baker Daniels, running for election in District 2.

The following candidates could not be reached or did not respond to survey questions.

  • Reginald McGregor, running for re-election as an at-large candidate.
  • Fred Medley, running as an at-large candidate.

Why did you choose to run for the school board?

Adjei: I would like to be a voice for the families, homeowners and businesses of Lawrence Township.

Freije: Several key leaders asked me to run for school board. With five kids who graduated from or are attending Lawrence Township schools, I am committed to excellent public education and am an experienced leader. As a longtime Lawrence Township volunteer, I have served in a variety of leadership positions in the district including: Lawrence Township School Foundation Board, Lawrence Township Boys Basketball League Board, LN Men’s Soccer Boosters Board and as a coach of youth sports. I also have served on my law firm’s management committee, led my firm’s young lawyer professional development and mentoring program, served in church leadership, including as trustee for a large congregation and volunteer at IPS School 58.

What issues will you focus on?

Adjei: If given an opportunity to serve I would like to focus my attention on closing the achievement gap and making the board a much more open and welcoming agency for the people of Lawrence Township.

Freije: After I decided to run for school board, I met with Dr. Shawn Smith and many of our schools’ principals, teachers and other leaders. I was energized by their commitment to excellence in our schools and the possibilities for Lawrence Township. If elected, I intend to support and encourage: academic excellence and increased opportunities for students; increased community partnerships and mentoring; enhanced resources for teachers and counselors; a strategic focus on facility upgrades; increased communications about successes in our schools; and leadership in diversity. As a leader, I will provide sound judgment and apply practical solutions in pursuing these goals.

What is the most important issue facing your district?

Adjei: The most importance issue facing our district is safety. There are many families that have expressed concern about crime and how it is on the rise in our schools. We must make our schools, transportation and classrooms safe and secure. Additionally, bullying is a behavior that must never be tolerated on any level in our schools. School should be a place that is free from disruptive and violent behaviors. Our families have and community have a right to expect that every child who attends a school in Lawrence Township is safe from the moment they leave their home until they return.

Freije: We have extraordinary academic and extra-curricular opportunities in Lawrence Township. We need to make sure that all of our students have access to those opportunities and are being challenged to reach their full potential. I believe each student needs a mentor or meaningful relationship with an adult who cares to help the student engage the opportunities that are available. Parents play an important role but so do our teachers, counselors, administrators and community volunteers. We are a big school system, but we can give individual attention to our students.

Anything else about yourself you’d like to share.

Adjei: I have a set of diverse experiences which include expertise in education and business. These attributes along with many others will allow me to meet the dynamic demands of the Lawrence Township school board. I will support the needs of a wide array of constituents in our township. I have what it takes to inspire and collaborate with fellow board and community members to improve Lawrence Township Schools. I have had children attend and graduate Lawrence Township Schools and go on to achieve successful careers as a result of their Lawrence Township education. I am a veteran educator who has had the privilege to serve as a licensed teacher and administrator for high school and middle school students. I have more than 20 years of professional educational experiences.

While in Lawrence Township, I have worked tirelessly on the front lines to help close the achievement gap. I have served on a variety of Township and citywide initiatives to support student learning. Having worked for private, public, township and charter schools, I have what it takes to engage students, families and all members of our community. I possess a solid degree of credibility that is authentic. I have been recognized by parents, homeowners, colleagues and community leaders, as a well-organized and highly effective professional, who is capable of meeting the needs and demands of all stakeholders. I can bring a fresh perspective to our school board.

Freije: I have lived in Lawrence Township since 1987. I am a graduate of Purdue University in Engineering and a law school graduate of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. My spouse, Brenda, is a lawyer and minister currently working at Christian Theological Seminary as Director of Networking & Recruitment and General Counsel.

Answers have been edited for length.

Changes

Denver East High principal Andy Mendelsberg out after investigation into cheerleading scandal

PHOTO: John Leyba / The Denver Post
Denver's East High School.

The principal of Denver’s East High School has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former East principal John Youngquist will return to Denver to lead the school, Boasberg announced Friday. Youngquist served for the past four years as a top official in Aurora Public Schools.

East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.

Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.

The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.

After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.

Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by DPS. The district on Friday released a report detailing the firm’s findings.

According to Boasberg’s letter, the investigation found that “over multiple months, in response to multiple concerns of a serious nature,” Mendelsberg and East athletic director Lisa Porter failed to keep the students on the cheer team safe.

Specifically, the letter says Mendelsberg and Porter did not “sufficiently address, share or report allegations of abuse and the contents of the videos;” failed to provide the necessary level of oversight for the cheer coach, “especially as concerns mounted;” and failed to take corrective action, including firing Williams.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Boasberg said that in addition to what was captured on video, concerns about Williams included that he instructed athletes not to tell anyone what happened at practice and required them to friend him on social media “with the express purpose of him monitoring their social media presence.”

Boasberg said that “raises deeper concerns about what was going on here.”

Mendelsberg, Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while the investigation was ongoing. The Denver police also launched an investigation.

Porter resigned her position earlier this week, Boasberg said.

Hickman received corrective action but is being reinstated after the investigation revealed he didn’t know the full extent of what happened, Boasberg said.

Cladis, who was not at practice during the splits incident and whose position was volunteer, is welcome to remain the assistant cheer coach, he said.

Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.

Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.

Regarding his decision to return to East, Youngquist said, “My heart has drawn me toward supporting this learning community now and well into the future.”

As a parent and school leader, he said he understands the trust that parents put in schools. “I’m committed to strengthening that bond and partnership with our young people, our parents and with our great East staff,” he said.

Munn has already appointed an interim chief academic officer: Andre Wright, who currently serves as a P-20 learning community director. In a statement Friday, Munn said he “will evaluate the role and expectations of the (chief academic officer) position prior to developing a profile for that position moving forward.”

“We thank John Youngquist for his four years of service … and wish him all the best in his next chapter,” Munn said.

Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles contributed information to this report.

showdown

McQueen’s deadline looms for Memphis and Nashville to share student info with charter schools — and no one is budging

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A request for student contact information from Green Dot Public Schools to help with enrollment efforts sparked a fight between the state and Shelby County Schools.

As Tennessee’s two largest school districts fought an order to share student information with charter schools, the state education commissioner set a deadline last week.

Candice McQueen told the superintendents of Shelby County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools they had to provide the data to charter schools that asked for it by Sept. 25 — or the state would “be forced to consider actions to enforce the law.”

But with just three days until the deadline, neither district has said it will budge. The consequences “will be determined Monday,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on Friday.

McQueen has not offered more information about what those consequences could be, though some lawmakers have worried it could mean funding cuts. There is some precedent for such a move: The Nashville district lost $3.4 million in state funding in 2012 when it refused to approve a controversial charter school, according to The Tennessean.

The clash comes after the Nashville and Memphis districts refused to turn over student contact information to charter networks, who argue that information is vital to their operation. Many Memphis schools, including those in the state-run school district, have been struggling with under-enrollment.

An amendment to an untested U.S. Department of Education rule suggests local districts can withhold information like phone numbers, addresses and email addresses — but a new state law requires Tennessee districts to hand it over to charter schools within 30 days.

The state department of education asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in. Last week, the attorney general said the districts had to turn the information over, but also that districts could take a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents about their right to opt out.

Shelby County Schools posted opt-out forms for parents on its website the next day, and gave parents until Oct. 22 to fill them out. The form allows parents to keep their information from charter schools specifically or from outside entities more broadly, including companies like yearbook providers, for example.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The school boards for the two districts have been in lockstep in defying the state’s order, with the Memphis board even offering to write a legal opinion if Nashville were to go to court over the issue.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his legal team is still reviewing the attorney general’s opinion.

“We still want to make sure parents know what their options are,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Tuesday. “When we [McQueen and I] talked, she understood that our opt-out forms were out there.”

Anna Shepherd, board chair for the Nashville district, said the board met with its attorney this week to discuss the issue but took no action.

“We have not had any further conversation with the state concerning the release of data for MNPS students,” Shepherd said by email. “I’m not anticipating any action [before Monday].”

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.