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.
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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
- 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.