There’s a pitched battle under way in K-12 education as reform advocates and charter schools challenge traditional institutions such as teachers’ unions and education schools.
In the middle of these clashing armies stands Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest school district. The 64-year-old, who has twice been named Indiana’s superintendent of the year, has both embraced and bristled at changes rumbling through Indiana’s public schools.
IPS is the eye of the storm for the expanding school-choice initiatives in Indiana. It has lost more than 5,000 students to charter schools, roughly 25 of which lie within its boundaries. IPS also saw 350 of its students sign up for new vouchers, which are scholarships to private schools paid for by taxpayers.
But in his six years at IPS’ helm, White has tried to fight choice with choice, launching a dizzying array of magnet schools that draw students from the entire district—or even beyond it—instead of a limited geographic area.
White also has worked with education reform groups, such as Indianapolis-based The Mind Trust, to bring programs such as Teach for America and the New Teacher Project to Indianapolis. Both offer ways for non-education majors to get into the teaching profession.
He even praised the Legislature for curtailing the rights of teachers’ unions, which forced IPS to pay, promote and dismiss educators based solely on seniority and college credits earned. He said that and other changes would “allow me to get creative.”
But White bitterly opposed the decision by Indiana’s reform-minded state schools chief Tony Bennett to take over control of four poor-performing IPS schools in August—even filing a lawsuit to challenge the decision on two of them.
And at the end of the year, White accused The Mind Trust and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard of trying to “flood” IPS with charter schools. He also dismissed The Mind Trust’s efforts to put Ballard in charge of the IPS school board and to gut what it called the “bloated bureaucracy” of the district’s central office.
But White, a former basketball star from Alabama, said he’s spoiling for the fight.
“What they’re going to do is create a situation where they’re going to force more competition and more choice. I don’t think we’re going to lose that battle,” White said.•