There are a few things Ahmed Young wants you to know about him.
1. Unlike his predecessor, Jason Kloth, he doesn’t have the title of deputy mayor for education. Director of the Office of Education Innovation will do just fine.
2. Mayor Joe Hogsett’s education agenda, which Young will be pushing, will advocate for public schools and have the highest expectations for the charter schools he oversees.
3. No, his remarkable family is not trying to take over the education policy world.
Who is Ahmed Young?
At age 36, he’s been a teacher in IPS, Lawrence Township and New York City, and he’s been a lawyer specializing in education law. He got to know Hogsett at the Bose McKinney Evans law firm, where Young’s work on a variety of education law cases — licensing, terminations, school board issues, federal education law, school funding and more — sparked an interest in education policy.
That’s what led to a phone call from Hogsett, in which he proposed a “crazy conversation.” Would Young consider coming to work for the city in Kloth’s role?
“I thought it wasn’t a crazy conversation at all,” Young recalled. “I thought it was an interesting challenge for me. Education can have generational impact. If you don’t believe that in education, you are in the wrong business.”
For Young, education has become something of a family business. Consider:
- Young’s mother is Khaula Murtadha, a vice chancellor at IUPUI who has taught education there and at Indiana University.
- He met his wife, Jasmin Shaheed-Young, while the two were working for Upward Bound, a federally funded education program that aims to encourage high school students to go to college. She now works as director of corporate and community relations for Keystone Construction Group. Her father is retired Marion County Judge David Shaheed.
- Her sister, Kameelah Shaheed-Diallo, has been vice president of strategy and community engagement at The Mind Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for educational change, for three years.
- Another of Young’s sisters-in-law is Mariama Shaheed Carson, a former decorated Pike Township principal who won a fellowship from The Mind Trust to develop a dual-language immersion charter school, called Global Preparatory Academy, that is slated to open next fall in an IPS building. She is married to U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis.
Despite those strong connections to the school reform community, Young doesn’t necessarily put himself in that camp.
“It is an unfair characterization,” he said. “I look at it much more broadly than that. I would peg myself in the realm of advocating for all of our students. It is limiting to say I am in the education reform movement.”
And the move of now three members of his well-connected family into education policy work over the past three years, he said, is nothing more than a happy coincidence.
“There is no puppet master,” he said. “For me it’s just timing and an opportunity to be a public servant. There’s no ‘National Treasure’ hunt. It might make interesting reading to see people put the dots together. But there are no dots. It’s just people working together to make sure kids have an opportunity for education.”
So what exactly is the agenda Hogsett and Young have in store for Indianapolis?
Certainly more focus on traditional public schools, Young said.
It was noticeable that Hogsett’s first official move on education was to call together Marion County superintendents. In conversations with reporters afterward, the words “charter schools” were never even mentioned, despite the fact that Hogsett now oversees more than 30 schools with enough students to rival the larger school districts in the city.
“He has an ambitious agenda,” Young said. “Indianapolis has been blessed over the last 50 years to have a continuation of progress. He recognizes he is not the mayor of education, but to take Indianapolis to the next level, education has to be part of the conversation.”
Young’s own views on school choice have evolved, he said.
“We don’t need to blow the system up,” he said. “We oversee charter schools, so I expanded my thought process to encompass that. It is essential that there is a competition there, but the business model of education isn’t the end-all. Its just a small sliver of the pie. I am open to choice but also to reason and logic and that parents should have all choices open to them in the decision-making process for schools and the neighborhood as a whole.”
Some of the push of the last two mayors, Bart Peterson and Greg Ballard, for charter schools was connected to concerns about Indianapolis Public Schools, but Young said the new administration is encouraged by the work of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.
“IPS has struggled undoubtedly,” he said. “I think Dr. Ferebee is doing a great job in trying to turn that corner. When you have historic failures over a long period of time, it’s like moving a large ship. He is trying to put a focus on what’s best for each and every child growing up in indy.”
As far as his title goes, Ballard elevated the job of overseeing education initiatives to a deputy mayor position when he hired Kloth. Hogsett’s opponent, Chuck Brewer, specifically promised to keep the job at the deputy mayor level.
But under Hogsett, Young’s role is as a director. He said that is a non-issue.
“My role is to be out in the community talking about these education issues, leading these conversations about education,” Young said. “It’s just a title. The work is going to be the same as for Jason Kloth. Jason did a great job. It’s an honor to be in a similar club.”