Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

New Board, New Problems? A Shift In The SBOE Brings New Concerns

Members of the State Board of Education hear public comment at a spring 2015 meeting – the last before lawmakers reconstituted the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Members of the State Board of Education hear public comment at a spring 2015 meeting – the last before lawmakers reconstituted the board. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Starting June 1, half of the State Board of Education members ended their term, bringing five new faces to the board. 

Legislation the General Assembly passed this year allowed the governor and legislative leaders to immediately reconfigure the board. Gov. Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announced their appointments last week, bringing optimism from many in the education community about an end to years of infighting.

Today, the new board meets for the first time, marking the beginning of a new era for a group whose previous disagreements dominated the past few years

A History Of SBOE Conflict

A handful of events can summarize why the State Board of Education needed a change.

“During the first few months of my board service literally I was sued,” says reappointed board member Gordon Hendry. “The superintendent, who’s the chair of the state board of education, walked out of a meeting thereby ending a board meeting – both of which have never happened in Indiana history.”

The fighting began when state superintendent Glenda Ritz joined the board as its chair, around the same time the state was facing huge education reforms: Indiana had recently adopted new academic standards, the charter school landscape was rapidly changing and the new school accountability system was measuring student success differently than before.

“All of that was unfortunate and it set a somewhat toxic environment for the board to consider some of the major issues that we have had to deal with,” Hendry says. “Very important issues have been considered within the context of these disputes.” Continue Reading

Meet The New State Board Of Education: Vince Bertram

When the General Assembly passed legislation allowing for a restructuring of the State Board of Education, everyone wondered: who might join the group?

All week we’ve been introducing you to the five new members appointed to the board by Gov. Mike Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. So far, you’ve met Byron Ernest, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, Eddie Melton and Steve Yager.

Last but not least, meet Vince Bertram, who will represent the fifth congressional district.

Vince Bertram will represent the fifth congressional district as a member of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Vince Bertram/Twitter)

Vince Bertram will represent the fifth congressional district as a member of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Vince Bertram/Twitter)

If you want to talk about bridging the local-national divide in education, Vince Bertram is your guy. He currently serves as president and CEO of Project Lead The Way, an engineering and technology program adopted by districts not only in Indiana, but in more than 8,000 schools across the country.

Prior to joining that organization in 2011, Bertram was employed in various school corporations around the state, working his way up from a high school physical education teacher and basketball coach in Angola, to principal at both Hamilton Heights and Lafayette Jefferson high schools, all the way to superintendent in the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation.

Having been around the state and spending his entire career in education in Indiana, Bertram says he is excited to take on his new role as a board member.

“The opportunity to work together with the state superintendent, the governor, other members of the State Board of Education, as well as educators around the state to make a difference for students was something very appealing to me,” Bertram says. “Education is so important, it is so fundamental to our economic success as a state and certainly for our students in terms of their career opportunities. So unless we get this right, we’re going to suffer. It requires collaboration at the deepest level for us to be successful.”

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Meet The New State Board Of Education: Eddie Melton

“What does a person in this position need to bring to the table?”

That’s the question Eddie Melton asked himself when he first heard of his assignment to Indiana’s State Board of Education. He’s one of five new members who’ll join the group Wednesday for the first time since Gov. Mike Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, reworked the group in response to new legislation.

Eddie Melton will represent the first congressional district as a member of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Eddie Melton/Twitter)

Eddie Melton will represent the first congressional district as a member of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Eddie Melton/Twitter)

Melton will represent the first congressional district, an area based in Lake County – Gary, Merrillville and most of the surrounding suburbs.

Although most of his fellow new appointees come from primarily classroom backgrounds, Melton brings a business and community-oriented perspective to the board. That’s not to say he hasn’t had his share of education-related experiences: as manager of Federal Governmental and Community Relations for NIPSCO, the primary gas and electric provider for the northern part of the state, Melton has served in a variety of roles allowing him to interact with local schools.

In addition to guiding the company’s charitable contributions, Melton has helped to lead community outreach and service initiatives, including an “energy academy,” in partnership with the Michigan City Community School Corporation, to teach students about energy careers and provide schools with related curriculum.

Prior to joining NIPSCO, Melton worked as a Community Initiative Officer for the Legacy Foundation – a Lake County community foundation focused on high educational attainment – launching initiatives to increase college- and career-readiness as well as graduation rates.

A lifelong resident of the district he will represent, Melton says he plans to focus on being a valuable line of communication between that community and the board.

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Meet The New State Board Of Education: Lee Ann Kwiatkowski

The State Board of Education meets Wednesday for the first time since lawmakers announced additions to the group.

Together, Gov. Mike Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, named five new board appointees last week, per legislation passed this session.

We’re introducing you to those fresh faces this week. Next up: Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, an assistant superintendent for M.S.D. Warren Township schools.

Lee Ann Kwiatkowski says she's excited to learn more about how she can help as a member of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: LinkedIn)

Lee Ann Kwiatkowski says she’s excited to learn more about how she can help as a member of the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: LinkedIn)

Kwiatkowski (pronounced KWY-uh-COW-skee, in case you were wondering) has a wide range of experience: she’s worked on educational programs for pre-kindergarten through high school-age students throughout her career, as both a classroom teacher and an administrator.

After an 18-year stint teaching in Indianapolis Public Schools, the Indiana Department of Education, under former Superintendent Sue Ellen Reed, pegged Kwiatkowski to run their Title I program, where she oversaw funding for disadvantaged students. She continued to work for the IDOE when Tony Bennett took over as superintendent, moving to a couple of different positions that allowed her to also work on programs for English language learners, special education, and school turnaround.

Kwiatkowski moved to Warren Township in 2011, where she served as principal for the early childhood center before transitioning to her current role a year later.

She says she believes her varied experiences – and having worked with three separate state superintendents – will benefit her as a board member. She adds that lessons she learned in those roles will help her contribute to productive board discussions – for example, conversations about standardized testing.

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Meet The New State Board Of Education: Byron Ernest

Last week, Gov. Mike Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announced their new appointments to the State Board of Education. The move came in response to legislation passed this session allowing the lawmakers to reconstitute the board.

We continue our profiles of the five new members with Byron Ernest, Speaker Bosma’s appointee and the head of Hoosier Academies, a network of Indiana charter schools focused on online education.

Ernest spent 25 years in the classroom, teaching agricultural science at a handful of schools across the state, before moving into an administrative role. He took a job as the principal of Emmerich Manual High School – one of the first failing schools to come under state control, and the first takeover school to improve its accountability grade above an F, under Ernest’s direction.

“As a reform-minded person, a person who likes to run toward challenges as opposed to away from them, I wanted that challenge,” Ernest says. “I thought ‘Wow, what a way to help kids.’ I’m excited that we were able to start the journey of that being a great school for those kids.”

Inevitably, his experience at Manual leads many to question what Ernest will do for the state’s takeover policy as a member of the State Board of Education.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Do I believe in takeover?’ and I have to say yes. But, I like to qualify and say, ‘Is that the answer in every case? No,’” Ernest explains. “I think we have to look at, is the school in a position to where there changes can be made to make it a great school and a highly-functioning, highly-effective school? I think it has to be an individual, case-by-case basis.”

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Glenda Ritz To Announce Run For Governor This Week

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has said she will consider a run for governor. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

State superintendent Glenda Ritz has said she will consider a run for governor. (Photo Credit: Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana)

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz will make a “special” campaign announcement Thursday in Indianapolis and then travel to five other cities to repeat the message, according to the Facebook page of Ritz’s campaign.

Sunday’s posting come two days after national public education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog that Ritz will challenge Gov. Mike Pence in the 2016 gubernatorial election. Ritz said last month she was considering a run for governor.

The first announcement is set for 11 a.m. at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.

Spokespeople for Ritz did not responded for a request to comment Saturday.

Ritz, a Democrat and former Indiana State Teachers Association board member, rode a grassroots campaign in 2012 to oust former state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican.

Bennett championed reforms, such adoption of the Common Core academic standards, teacher evaluations and state-takeover of chronically failing schools.

In that statewide election, Ritz garnered 1,332,755 votes for superintendent. Pence, in a three-way gubernatorial race, got 1,275,424 votes. Ritz was the only Democrat to win a statewide position in the election.

Tensions between Pence and Ritz soon erupted into political fighting and accusations. Ritz accused Pence of “not seeking a power-grab, but rather a complete takeover” of state education policy in November 2013, months after Pence used his executive order to create a new education agency to support his appointees on the State Board of Education.

In February, Pence criticized Ritz’s leadership over the length of this spring’s ISTEP+ exam — the first assessment of new statewide math and English standards sought by Pence. The two quickly agreed on a plan to shorten the test. Continue Reading

Meet The New State Board Of Education: Steve Yager

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Ft. Wayne, appointed former Ft. Wayne superintendent Steve Yager to the State Board of Education.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, appointed former Fort Wayne superintendent Steve Yager to the State Board of Education. (Photo Credit: Senate Republicans)

Earlier this week, Gov. Mike Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announced their new appointments to the State Board of Education in response to legislation passed this session allowing the lawmakers to reconstitute the board at once.

Over the next few days, we at StateImpact will profile the five new members, explaining their professional backgrounds and what they hope to contribute to the INSBOE. We start with former Fort Wayne superintendent Steve Yager.

Since beginning his career in education in 1973, Yager has worked as a classroom teacher, school counselor, assistant principal, principal and a superintendent for more than twenty years. He retired last year, after serving more than 20 years as superintendent for both the Southwest Allen County Schools and the Northwest Allen County Schools.

Yager says when Sen. Long approached him to serve on the board, he made one thing very clear.

“We had a very frank discussion and I wanted to make sure that there weren’t any real political issues that would be expected if I were appointed,” Yager says. “Making sure that I could make educational decisions and not have to worry about politics.”

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Building Funds: How Charter Schools Benefit From The Newest Budget

We’ve been talking a lot about money leading up to, during and now after the conclusion of the 2015 “education session.”

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

(Photo Credit: Michelle Vinnacombe/Flickr)

That’s because lawmakers spent a good deal of time this year reworking the way schools are funded – not just traditional public schools, but charter schools too.

These institutions saw a pretty big swing in their favor in the state’s new biennial budget: they can now receive additional money to pay for things like buildings, technology, and transportation – money they couldn’t previously access.

Not everyone likes charter schools, or believes that they should be handed public funds, but others say the move could serve as a pretty big incentive to not only to draw more charter schools into Indiana, but to keep the schools that are already here – and their traditional counterparts – performing at a high level.

‘Space Available’

Mariama Carson stands in an empty parking lot on Commercial Drive, off of I-465 on the north side of Indianapolis. She looks up at a building that sits on the south end of the lot, among a series of strip malls. This particular space sits between a small Chinese restaurant and an abandoned H.H. Gregg grocery store.

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

A vacant space at 3695 Commercial Drive that Mariama Carson is considering for her proposed charter school, set to open in 2016. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

“A former Hobby Lobby,” Carson explains. “That’s what I know it as. I was a teacher down in this area, and I remember coming here to get crafts and things for the classroom.”

Carson, a former school principal in Pike Township, points to a different sign now atop the building entrance: “For Lease: Space Available, 56,000 square feet.” She says the space might be an option for Global Prep Academy, the proposed charter school she hopes to run.

“I think they’re waiting for it to be revived, and I’m hoping that this kind of space would be great for a school to revive the area,” Carson says.

3695 Commercial Drive has been empty for a long time; the last time Carson says she remembers coming in for craft supplies was maybe 10 years ago. In fact, five or six other retail spaces beside it also boast bold-faced “For Lease” signs.

Despite the vacancies, Carson says this area – dubbed the “International Marketplace” – is exactly the type of environment she’s been looking for to house her proposed K-8 school for dual language learners.

“The International Marketplace collectively is the most diverse pocket in the entire state of Indiana,” Carson recounts. “Wanting to have a school that’s in close proximity to the demographics we’re going after, it’s this place.”

But there is a major factor standing in her way: cost.

“The total for the whole project from the renovation standpoint was like $4.5 million – that’s just renovation, not even for the building,” Carson says. “To buy it is like over a million dollars.”

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Lawmakers Announce New State Board Appointments

Troy Albert is one of the State Board of Education members the governor did not reappoint to the board Wednesday.

Troy Albert is one of the State Board of Education members the governor did not reappoint to the board Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Rachel Morello/StateImpact Indiana)

Five new people will join Indiana’s State Board of Education after Gov. Mike Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announced appointments Wednesday.

The new roster comes as a result of legislation the General Assembly passed this session permitting the governor and two legislative leaders to appoint or reappoint INSBOE members by June 1. The governor previously had authority to appoint all members of the board as spots became vacant, never all at once.

But after months of disagreements and arguments on the board that led to a walkout by Ritz, stalemate on important policy decisions and a lawsuit, the legislature decided it was time to reboot the board.

“Today marks a fresh start for the State Board of Education,” Pence said in a statement. “Ensuring a quality education for every Hoosier student remains of the utmost importance to our administration, and I commend the tireless efforts of the men and women who have devoted their time and expertise by serving on the Board.”

“Hoosiers can be assured that the individuals appointed today to the State Board of Education bring to the table a wealth of unique educational experiences and remain wholeheartedly committed to serving our kids, our families, our teachers, and our schools,” Pence said.

Over the last two years, the INSBOE adopted new academic standards, revamped the state’s standardized assessment and created a new A-F accountability system – but that doesn’t mean this new board will not have plenty to do.

Board spokesman Marc Lotter says his staff will immediately begin reaching out to the new members to help prepare them for their first meeting June 3. Lotter says the biggest agenda items facing the new group will be addressing components of the new state budget, including new funding and loan options for charter schools, as well as the board’s role in state testing contracts.

“We also have to establish the testing windows for next year,” Lotter explains. “I know that there are a lot of superintendents and principals that are really looking to get those dates so they can map out the academic year next year.”

Below, check out a visual representation of the political parties (blue for Democratic, red for Republican & neutral for Independent), professional backgrounds & district memberships of former, returning & new State Board of Education members.

Click on a district to see its board representative. To switch between the former and current board makeup maps, click on the main menu in the top left corner of the map and select “Former INSBOE” or “New INSBOE.”

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