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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Casting A Vision for Public Schools in Indianapolis

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Special Contribution to the Recorder

Aleesia Johnson, Shannon Williams, Jasmin Shaheed-Young, Angelia Moore, Venita Moore. (Collage by Jade Jackson)

The saying goes that if you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk together.

Today, we are publicly committing to walking together for the future of public schools across our city, and we will leverage our shared experience and expertise to make sure every student in Indianapolis can access a quality education. As five Black women, this is especially important to us because we understand the disparities that exist for students of color, most of whom attend district run and public charter schools in Central Indianapolis.

We come from different perspectives —parents, elected and appointed leaders, community advocates and leaders — but we are united in the belief that our schools are the heart of our community.

That is the reason why we do the work, but in recent months, we haven’t always agreed on how the work gets done. As we move forward together to envision a K–12 public school landscape that works for all students, we are committed to the following shared principles.

As we look to our classrooms, we must work together to tackle big issues for our students — accelerating academic learning gains in reading and math, access to mental health support, language equity, and building a strong foundation in literacy and math. Four out of five students in our schools are students of color; only a quarter of our teachers look like them. We can and will close that gap.

Public education is fundamental. We have to invest in it, and we have to champion it.

When we talk about public education, we are talking about all public schools — traditional and public charters. Families select schools for their students for different reasons; we are fortunate in Indianapolis to have many public options to choose from, and we believe families can and should make that choice.

Our goal is to ensure students can get in where they fit in. It’s not to promote one school over another or pit one type of school against another.

We have to think bigger than right now, which is a challenge when our schools lack the resources they need, our teachers are under attack, and many of our students face trauma from years of learning loss and their lived experiences outside the classroom.

Nevertheless, we have to be intentional about casting a vision not just for what we want public education in Indianapolis to be, but what we want it to become.

That vision includes our brick-and-mortar facilities, which is why we commit to working together to ensure all public schools — traditional and charter — have access to quality facilities.

But we should also be thinking bigger and bolder when it comes to the schools where our kids learn. How can we offer families state-of-the-art facilities for academics and athletics?

How are we outfitting our facilities to prepare students for next-level careers?

Currently funding disparities exist simply based on the type of public school a family chooses to attend. That is not fair. We must ensure that every public school — yes, every public school — has the funding they need to pay their teachers and support their students. We know we can’t do that in a vacuum. We are well positioned with strong leadership in the local education landscape to undertake this work, but we know it will require support from state lawmakers and input from public education champions at every level to center the debate on what our kids need, not what kind of school they attend.

We approach this conversation with joy, our voices united in hope that together, we can establish a unified vision for the future of public education in our city, and we invite any and all who share these values to join us on the journey.

Dr. Aleesia Johnson, Superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools
Shannon Williams, Executive Vice President, The Mind Trust
Jasmin Shaheed-Young, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, RISE Indy
Angelia Moore, Vice-chair, IPS Board of Commissioners
Venita Moore, Chair, IPS Board of Commissioners

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