Justin Ohlemiller said he took his position with Stand for Children Indiana in 2013 because he felt a moral obligation to ensure that children, especially those in the most challenged neighborhoods, have the same opportunities he did to get a good education.
“This job was a fantastic way to take that strong belief and passion and put it into action,” he said.
The job requires that he focus the organization’s attention on both political advocacy and education policy. One of the achievements he’s most proud of was an effort by parents of children in IPS School 93 to improve the school. Ohlemiller said School 93 was a troubled school with multiple years of F grades from the state Department of Education. A few parents who went through Stand for Children Indiana’s advocacy program decided to lead a campaign to request that the district bring an effective turnaround model to their school.
The school board and superintendent agreed to the parents’ requests.
“Two years later,” Ohlemiller said, “that school is among the leaders in student growth in the district and the state, and the state grade has gone from F to A.”
Ohlemiller likes the idea of empowering parents to take action and lead school-reform efforts. “That’s how movements begin and continue—by getting folks to buy in for the need to get involved and engaged and have them take over the advocacy. It’s much more powerful when you have folks at the grass-roots level take ownership and buy in and lead the charge.”
He sees opportunity for this to be a bipartisan concern. “I love the opportunity to work with folks on both sides of the aisle on these issues. That’s where a lot of our challenges have to be solved—by looking at solutions backed by both Democrats and Republicans.”•
—Marc D. Allan