Who Is In Charge

New board president wants a ‘world-class education’ for every student in Indianapolis Public Schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Michael O'Connor was elected president of the Indianapolis Public Schools board.

A new leader has been chosen to helm the board of Indianapolis’ largest school district.

School board member Michael O’Connor was unanimously selected Monday to serve as president for 2018. He replaced Mary Ann Sullivan, who had served as president for two years.

O’Connor was initially appointed to fill a vacant seat on the board in 2015 and elected in 2016. He is currently the senior director of state government affairs at Eli Lilly and Company and previously served as deputy mayor under Mayor Bart Peterson. He represents district 1, which includes the near eastside.

As president, O’Connor said that he would make sure the district is open and transparent about its decisions.

“I pledge that we will continue to work very hard as a board and continue to make this a district that every one of our students [will] have the opportunity to have a world-class education,” he said.

The board also elected Venita Moore, who is in her first term, to serve as vice-president, and Elizabeth Gore, who previously served on the board and was reelected in 2016.

“We have a lot more work to do, and I have a lot of confidence in Commissioner O’Connor to lead the charge,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

The board members are largely united in their support for controversial policies — such as partnering with charter operators to run schools, giving principals more flexibility, and closing high schools — so the leadership is unlikely to shift the direction of the district. But this is a politically significant moment for the district, and the president could play an essential role over the next year. Three of the district’s high schools will close, and voters will face referendums to raise $936 million for the city’s largest district.

Former-board president Mary Ann Sullivan lauded the work of the administration and her fellow board members during her term.

“Over the past several years, we have thoughtfully and methodically laid the foundation for a new type of urban school district,” Sullivan said, “One that believes all students can achieve at high levels, allocates resources fairly and equitably, operates efficiently, is designed for continuous improvement, and understands that teachers and school leaders together with their families, are best positioned to make key decisions about schools.”

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.