Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

'Eugene White Doesn't Want To Be Kicked Around'

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Eugene White presides over an August meeting of the school board.

If Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Eugene White is leaving, it won’t be for Greenville, S.C.

Greenville’s school board decided to pass on White and appoint an in-house candidate as their next superintendent last night. White interviewed Tuesday for the top job in Mobile, Ala., where he’s a finalist.

Why make for the exit now? For one thing, White has said he wants to retire in the southeast. But I can’t forget his answer when I asked him rather pointedly last December — while working on a story about the state takeover of four IPS schools — how he responds to criticism from state education officials who say “Eugene White’s not playing ball:

Eugene White doesn’t want to be the ball. Eugene White doesn’t want to be kicked around. Eugene White doesn’t want to be dogged.

Eugene White feels that in the last six years, we’ve had tremendous progress in IPS. So much so that we deserve to have some type of recognition for that. As a matter of fact, the state used the letter of the law to take Arlington and Howe from us… Eugene White will not get over that. People need to know that. That hurt me because we lost kids we were making progress with…

When they came up with this brilliant idea to take over schools, no one sat down and say, ‘What’s the ramification to take over a school?’… We will not support your [co-curricular or extracurricular] program with our ADM money, so you have to run your program. If I decide that I have to take my programs with me, then it’s not Eugene White not playing ball, it’s other people not understanding what the law says. And I don’t think that’s my problem. I think that’s an interpretation problem…

We want the state to give all of that a lot of thought. There are ramifications that they haven’t thought about, when you take over a bunch of stuff, that’s huge. We’re still waiting on answers from the state. It’s not Eugene White not playing ball. (Full audio below.)

White added during the interview in December that IPS wanted to embrace the competitive atmosphere fostered under the state’s current education policy, which allows for the proliferation of charter schools and opens private schools’ doors to more students. He said he had designs to make the Indianapolis district “the best school district for 20,000 to 30,000 students in the country.”

During the interview, White didn’t explicitly point towards his departure. But this answer also adds context to his potential exit, since his job is also less politically secure than it was when he took it — maybe less than it was when we spoke on December 14 — and raises questions about the future of a post-Eugene White Indianapolis Public Schools.

Though White has allies on the IPS school board, Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard has said he wants his office to take control of the district. In addition, the much-discussed Mind Trust proposal (which came out a few days after our half-hour-long interview), if implemented, could shift more control out of the IPS district office.

State superintendent Tony Bennett has publicly criticized White and IPS administrators throughout the process of taking over four of the district’s schools. He says White doesn’t have students’ best interests at heart in the takeover process.

“This is not an issue about competition,” Bennett told the State Board of Education in December. “This is about very fundamental issues we need to get around quickly and get on with the business of improving these schools.”

White elicits a wide range of reactions from different groups of parents and educators. Alice Glover, an active member of the alumni association at IPS’s Manual High School, says she doesn’t know why White’s achievements at other schools never took hold at the district’s lowest-performing schools, like Manual.

“We’re all sorry that [the state takeovers] happened. But the bottom line is the kids were not producing the way that they should, or they were not educated the way that they should be, and achieving the goals that needed to be achieved in order for the school to not be taken over. He had a few years notice. It wasn’t like this happened overnight,” Glover told StateImpact in December.

What do you think of White’s interviews out-of-state? Do you think it’s time for White to go? Or should he stay to complete his work in Indianapolis?

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