(Chalkbeat talked with the 10 candidates running for a spot on the Indianapolis Public Schools board about their backgrounds, educational philosophies, and why and how they want to influence the school district if they are elected Nov. 4. To compare their positions against other candidates, visit our interactive election tracker.)
As the son of a 32-year Indianapolis Public Schools teacher, Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton always had an interest in education.
But when Hampton got involved with a church in New York City in 2006 after seminary study, he started working with the education reform community to improve outcomes for poor students.
Hampton is bringing reform ideals — such as increased principal autonomy, an openness to partnerships with charter schools and a goal of restructuring and increasing teacher pay — to his campaign this fall for an at-large seat on the Indianapolis Public School Board. He’s running against incumbent Annie Roof and three other challengers: former State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, Butler University instructor Josh Owens and IPS athletic coach Ramon Batts.
Here is what Hampton told Chalkbeat about his background, goals for the district and thoughts on education issues:
(Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat and WFYI’s Oct. 23 education conversation event at the Indianapolis Public Library)
Hampton’s passion for education was shaped at a young age when he saw some of his close friends go down the wrong path.
“It was dangerous in some neighborhoods to be too smart,” Hampton said. “That’s the sad part about the African American experience. You’re perceived as being white, or talking white, or you’re better than them. When you grow up in a gang-infested neighborhood, you either join the gang or you don’t have the protections that come with that. I had friends that were extremely smart and they chose not to highlight that. Some of them went on to prison, some were killed. I grew up seeing so much potential being wasted, senselessly. It’s OK to grow up tough but to still be articulate. You have to be something in life.”
He wants to address disparities in educational outcomes for African American, Latino and Asian students.
“I want to make sure I’m a clear advocate for all students,” Hampton said. “Any disparities or inequities just need to be looked at. I think there needs to be better representation among teachers. Seventy percent are white. If prisons are built based on third-grade reading levels of African-American boys, then are we saying that we’re willing to invest more into prison than education? If not, let’s invest in early childhood education.”
He learned about the politics of education and change in Indianapolis when he sat on an IPS advisory board led by former Superintendent Eugene White, shortly after returning to Indianapolis to lead Light of the World church.
“I was just doing what I do, being the new pastor,” Hampton said. “I also met (The Mind Trust founder) David Harris. I liked some of the things that The Mind Trust was doing, but I understood the politics and the push back and I understood some of the dynamics around where that would be a threat to IPS. I was very honest in those meetings as someone who has worked with both sides to try to depoliticize the issues. I became impassioned in really helping IPS improve, to turn around failing schools and improve graduation rates.”
He thinks IPS needs to offer more vocational programs for students.
“Every student may not go to college, but they can graduate from high school,” Hampton said. “We’re going to have to offer different types of pedagogical models. We can’t expect every student to excel in a one-size-fits-all model. It could be that students aren’t failing. It could be that the system is failing students. We’re going to have to be honest in that evaluation.”
He’s a little nervous about the outcome of the Nov. 4 election.
“I like that the field is saturated with five good candidates because it shows that others have a passion for children and education,” Hampton said. “It’s difficult because a few of us are reform-friendly and I would hate if the vote were to be split in such a way that neither one of us wins. I would hate that someone who’s not innovative would be voted in. I don’t call myself a through-and-through reformer. I would call myself a progressive. My track record shows I’ve been willing to work the reform side and the traditional side.”