outlook unclear

Advocates of all stripes wonder: How would Hogsett approach education?

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Accelerated School was one of the first 10 mayor-sponsored charter schools to open in Indianapolis. Now the mayor's office oversees 35 charter schools.

To Robert Vane, a Republican strategist who used to work for Mayor Greg Ballard, there is only one sensible posture for an Indianapolis mayor to have on education.

“I believe the mayor has to be an activist,” he said.

That’s a common sentiment among both Republicans and Democrats who have been involved in pushing for changes in the way the city’s schools are run.

Advocates on both sides of the political fence say they are optimistic about Joe Hogsett, who has emerged in the last month as a leading contender for mayor in 2016. But they also admit that they really don’t know much about what he thinks about charter schools, the structure of the Indianapolis Public School Board and other issues that the next mayor is likely to confront.

“I don’t know where he is on education issues,” said Gordon Hendry, a member of the Indiana State Board of Education and a former deputy mayor under Ballard’s Democratic predecessor, Bart Peterson. “But I think, should Joe Hoggsett be elected mayor, he would be an activist. That’s the kind of guy he is. He would want to roll up his sleeves and consider the best policies possible.”

The fast-changing mayor’s race has raised questions about the possibility of a change in direction for the city’s approach to education.

Just months ago, at the summer’s end, there was every reason to believe Ballard would be a formidable candidate seeking a third term in 2016. A third term likely would have meant a continued push for charter schools. Over his six years in office, Ballard has aggressively backed the opening of new charter schools and other changes.

But Ballard announced last month that he would not run, followed by Hogsett’s announcement that he would. Since then, the other Democrat in the race, state Rep. Ed Delaney, ended his campaign, and the Indianapolis Star reported the Republicans have so far struggled to recruit a replacement for Ballard.

That means the chances that the city’s mayoral leadership could switch political parties, as it did in 2008 when Ballard defeated Peterson, are considerably greater.

Just how much a party switch would matter when it comes to education is unclear. Peterson and Ballard shared the view that Indianapolis needed more good schools, and both supported expanding the city’s charter sector: Peterson was the first mayor in the nation to sponsor charter schools, and Ballard nearly doubled the number of mayor-sponsored charter schools to 35 this year.

Their bipartisan support for charter schools means the publicly funded but privately managed schools are here to stay, said David Harris, a former Peterson aide who helped him co-found The Mind Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for educational change, including charter schools, in Indianapolis.

“I don’t see how anyone could be a candidate for mayor and do anything but embrace the success of the charter sector that we have in Indianapolis,” he said. “My expectation would be whoever wins, we will have someone who is supportive of the charter sector.”

Joe Hogsett
Joe Hogsett

Indeed, in an interview last week with Chalkbeat, Hogsett said he supports charter schools. But how strong that support would be, and where he would stand on other issues, remains to be seen, and in some ways Hogsett sounded very different from Ballard and Peterson.

He cited his early legal work on behalf the Indiana State Teachers Association — the state’s largest teachers union — and called teacher pay his top education issue. Ballard and charter school advocates have been at odds with the ISTA, which argues charter schools, which are almost always non-union, often mean less pay and fewer job protections for teachers.

Rather than describe himself as a force for change focused heavily on inner-city schools in the mold of Peterson and Ballard on education, Hogsett pitched himself in a more centrist role. He said he hoped to be a “convener” of conversations about education and a “cheerleader” for public education, promising that his focus would extend beyond charter schools and Indianapolis Public Schools.

“I think how I might be different than previous mayors is I intend to be fully engaged and immersed in how education is being delivered in all four corners of this county,” Hogsett said. “We do tend to focus on IPS, with good reason admittedly. But the mayor must not lose sight of the fact that there are 11 school corporations in this city. Each of them are worthy of the mayor’s time and attention.”

Hendry cautioned that there is no reason to believe Hogsett would act differently than his predecessor when it comes to advocating for charter schools or creating urgency to improve schools in the center city.

“He’s always been a visionary so I think I would place him more in the Mayor Bart Peterson camp,” he said. “I think he will listen to the best minds within our party and formulate the best policies.”

That’s what Vane expects, too, citing the fact that both Hogsett and Peterson are strongly connected politically, having both worked for former Indiana governor and U.S. senator Evan Bayh.

“I would be absolutely shocked, and really dismayed, if he walked us back,” Vane said.

While the prospect of a Hogsett mayoralty is drawing bipartisan optimism, there are also people on both sides of the aisle who are wary about his education outlook.

Some Republicans worry that Hogsett will be too heavily influenced by unions and Democratic lawmakers who have raised concerns about charter schools and the education policy shifts of the last decade.

“There is a certain faction of the Democratic Party that has never embraced the sort of reforms that we have done in Indiana,” Vane said. “If they took over in the city of Indianapolis and held too much sway it would impact the kids who need it most.”

And Democrats who are wary about recent education policy changes hope that Hogsett would be more cautious than Ballard about school choice and accountability.

“He needs to be very cognizant of what the majority of people within the Democratic Party believe,” said Rep. Greg Porter, a Democrat from Indianapolis. “The party is not as fractured as people say.”

Despite Hogsett’s ISTA connection, the union’s president, Teresa Meredith, said she is looking forward to meeting with him to learn more about his views. Hogsett, she said, should rely on teachers to inform his policy choices.

“There are some great teacher leaders around the city,” she said. “It would be smart of him to talk with them before he came down strongly committed on any policy in education. He needs to hear what teachers think. He need to hear what it’s like to deal with student poverty issues every single day, so he has a true understanding of the whole picture of what it’s like in Indianapolis.”

Porter also is among the high profile Democratic leaders lining up to meet with Hogsett to discuss education and other issues with him. In the meantime, he said he hopes that Hogsett sees education as part of the puzzle for improving the city, along with neighborhood revitalization and other efforts, rather than as a silver bullet.

“He needs to understand all the complexities going on: mobility, neighborhood stabilization and education,” Porter said. “All of that is important.”

For true believers in charter schools, including those who are Democrats, the myriad issues facing the city is exactly why they hope Hogsett would continue Ballard’s and Peterson’s support.

“To me the most important thing for the future of the city is we continue to advance school reform,” Harris said. “If we are unable to do that it would make all other goals for the city impossible to achieve.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.