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Supt. White to retire from IPS

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Rumors and speculation in the local education community were put to rest this week when Dr. Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, announced that he would retire after seven years of leading the state’s largest school district.

White stated his last day as superintendent will be April 5.

He made the announcement during a meeting of the IPS School Board on Tuesday.

“It has been a privilege to work on behalf of IPS students and to partner with our parents, community and school staff,” White stated. “We have accomplished much in the last seven years and I’m proud of the progress we made.”

White’s announcement followed conflicting reports issued earlier in the day by various media outlets speculating as to whether he had resigned immediately, which an IPS spokesman denied.

Few observers seemed to be surprised by White’s decision, given the recent election of three new school board members, which gave the board’s majority to individuals who have touted reforms in IPS and expressed a willingness to challenge or significantly modify White’s proposals.

Signs of a potentially volatile relationship between White and the new configuration of the board appeared on Monday when board members voted to delay implementation of his plan to start offering free preschool to 1,400 4-year-olds this fall.

White proudly touted the proposal as a way to help build a stronger educational foundation for students, but board members have said further review is needed for the process to be done right, citing concerns about expenses, structure, transportation and the ability to provide before and after school care.

Still, new School Board President Diane Arnold, who often clashed with White, thanked him for his “years of dedicated service,” and said the district is now “focused on the future.”

Arnold said the board will soon appoint an interim superintendent then begin the process of finding a permanent replacement. Anyone interested in the position can apply with a cover letter and resume to the board.

At press time, it was reported that the board will honor White’s contract, which is not set to expire until 2015, and when he retires that he would receive the balance of his contract, or $800,000 in compensation, insurance and benefits.

Earlier, White said he had not yet decided on future plans, but will discuss them with his wife, who is also retiring this year.

White became superintendent of IPS in July 2005, following 11 years as superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township. Before that, White served as an deputy superintendent in IPS.

He received the second of two Indiana Superintendent of the Year recognitions while at IPS and was the 2007 National Association of Black School Educators Superintendent of the Year.

Supporters credit White with successful efforts to increase the district’s graduation rate by more than 20 percent between 2005 to 2012, reducing dropout rates, raising ISTEP scores and implementing the district’s full day kindergarten program, tougher disciplinary standards and policies that lay off teachers based on ability and not seniority.

White has also been credited with creating four district secondary magnet programs, developing two Centers for Inquiry Schools and the Sidener Academy for high ability students, and reforming athletic and music programs.

Critics, however, have pointed to the overall academic performance of IPS, which is below the state average, declining enrollment, what some viewed as White’s brusque leadership approach and last year’s takeover of four under performing schools by private contractors hired by the state.

Indianapolis Stand for Children, a local education reform organization, believes the IPS School Board – and the community at large – now has an opportunity to set a new vision to improve the district.

“IPS’ problems have never been about one person,” said Ja’Neane Minor, director of Stand for Children. “We believe it is the responsibility of the entire community – parents, educators, businesses and community leaders – to ensure all students in IPS receive a high quality education.”

Few would disagree with the statement that running a school district the size of IPS – more than 33,000 students – with declining revenue sources is not easy.

As shown by White’s predecessors over the last 20 years – Dr. Shirl Gilbert, Dr. Esperanza Zendejas and Dr. Duncan “Pat” Pritchett – superintendents have to depart from the position content with the knowledge that while they couldn’t solve all of the district’s challenges, at least some kind of progress was made.

Gilbert noted that while some people may disagree with a superintendent’s methods or proposals, they can be confident that decisions are made in the best interest of students.

“It’s a challenging position that changes everyday, and it is important to understand that sometimes superintendents make decisions that people don’t understand, but they are made in the best interest of the young people you are responsible for,” said Gilbert, who was superintendent of IPS from 1990 to 1994 when White was deputy superintendent. He holds fond memories of his years in Indianapolis, and is now executive director for instruction in the Baton Rouge, La., school system.

“I have no doubt in my mind that’s what Eugene White did every day,” added Gilbert. “I think he served the young people of Indianapolis well for a long time, and I salute him as he retires. He even took his influence beyond the city through his leadership of national educational organizations around the country, and made a difference in that way as well.”

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