IPS swears in three new board members, including two skeptics of the administration

Indianapolis Public Schools ushered in what is likely to be a new era Monday, swearing in three new members including two whose campaigns challenged the current administration.

New board members Susan Collins, a retired teacher, and federal employee Taria Slack defeated incumbents who had been supportive of initiatives that captured national attention for Indianapolis Public Schools and its outgoing superintendent, Lewis Ferebee.

Collins and Slack have specifically expressed skepticism about the growth of innovation schools, which are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella.  This year, more than one in four district students attends one of those 20 innovation schools, and the school board has been largely supportive of the approach.

But with the district at a pivotal moment as Ferebee heads to Washington, D.C., the new board could slow the transformation.

During their campaigns, Slack and Collins were endorsed by the teachers union and the IPS Community Coalition, a group that is critical of the current administration.

Slack, for one, said she will continue to push the board to look critically at the direction of the district.

“The people in the community have spoken up,” she said. “I want to make sure that we’re going in the right direction with IPS and making sure that we’re looking at the data before we are making decisions on the board and doing proper research with innovation schools and closing schools and things of that nature.”

The third new member, Marian University administrator Evan Hawkins, is more closely aligned with the current administration. He replaces Kelly Bentley, who did not run for reelection. Hawkins was endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana, a parent organizing group that has supported innovation schools.

Despite a contentious board election, the first meeting of the year was short, and there was little apparent friction.

“I want to welcome our new board members,” said Michael O’Connor, who was elected board president for the second time. “It will be challenging, it will be interesting, it will be exciting, and it will be thankless.”

The meeting was the first led by interim-Superintendent Aleesia Johnson, who took over the district this week after Ferebee was tapped as the mayor’s nominee to run the school system in the nation’s capital. The job is not yet a done deal, as Ferebee must be confirmed by the city council, and his handling of an abuse scandal while in Indianapolis is being scrutinized.

Amid the changes in its membership, the board will have some stability in leadership. The members voted unanimously for the current board officers to remain in their positions. In addition to O’Connor, Venita Moore will be vice-president, and Elizabeth Gore will be secretary.

“Considering that we have three new board members and an interim superintendent, I think continuity and stability in 2019 will be critical to our success,” said veteran board member Diane Arnold.