One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1998 blockbuster hit, “Enemy of the State,” starring Will Smith. Toward the end of the movie, Smith is sitting on the couch and watching the news with his on-screen wife, played by Oscar winner Regina King. The soundbite from the fictional news coverage comes from a fictional congressman who says: “We knew that we had to monitor our enemies. We’ve also come to realize that we need to monitor the people who are monitoring them …” The next line is spoken by Regina King’s character, “Well, who’s gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors?” My absolute favorite line in this movie! 

Her question rings true to so many issues today — from local to national and even international issues. Let’s think about her question in context to our Indianapolis Public School Board. The purpose of our school board is not unlike other school boards, and that is to:

• Govern the public K-12 school system and ensuring accountability for student outcome and performance

• Represent the diverse beliefs and values of the community

• Hire and evaluate superintendent

• Monitor budgets

• Listen and act on concerns from the community

• Advocate on important K-12 policy issues for students

To sum up those bullet points, the school board monitors the monitors. They monitor the performance of the leadership, the schools’ outputs, the educators and act on the community’s concerns. But who’s gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors? Who’s holding them to the fire? Who’s ensuring that little Black boys and Black girls in our school system receive the critical education needed to progress them to the next phase in life — college? That’s where we come in. That’s our job as a community. Collectively as a community of public citizens, or parents or regular common folk — we have a right to monitor the monitors. Even if you don’t currently have a child in the Indianapolis Public Schools system, you have a right to advocate for better schools, safer learning environments, rigorous curriculum and quality teachers — a better educated community means increased economic growth and stability. We have the right to hold them accountable when the school board doesn’t live up to our expectations. After all, members of the school board are elected officials. 

For many years now, IPS has diversified the portfolio of school types by adding charter and innovation schools. The board has also intentionally diversified the board itself to be more inclusive of the varying cultures and opinions that reflect the diversity of Indianapolis. 

Follow the money

Think of it like this — the school board is partially responsible your child’s education because they make the decisions on how to spend the money allotted to public education. They make the decision on which schools undergo construction, details of the curriculum and salary increases for teachers. Most of us aren’t elected school board members, so how can we get involved in what the board does? 

1. Attend meetings. You can access their meetings calendar here. Get to know what topics will be covered and understand policy matters up for discussion. If you’re unable to physically attend a meeting, you can watch IPS proceedings —usually streamed live from the ISP Facebook page. 

2. Rally for change in public education at the Indiana Statehouse to influence policymakers who influence education legislation.  

3. Utilize your influence. Share educational resources with parents, students and community leaders on your social platforms. 

4. Volunteer directly within the Indianapolis Public Schools

5. Run for office. If the direction of the school board isn’t what you expect it to be, be the change you want to see.  

6. Vote in the next election. Learn what school board commissioners’ platforms are. Understand how they plan to improve Indianapolis schools. Choose the candidate that best matches your views for refining education. 

Here’s why it matters

What should we advocate for? Unfortunately more than 15,000 students in IPS attend D- or F-rated schools. In fact, IPS received a D grade in accountability from the Indiana Department of Education since 2013. A D grade. In accountability. What exactly does school accountability mean? The letter grades represent how well the school system aligns with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The grade takes into account graduation rates, student performance on state tests and other factors. Advocate that the school board improve our accountability — to ensure our youth are properly educated and college-ready.

It’s no surprise that many of the failing schools are located in neighborhoods that serve low-income and minority students. In our city, 44 percent of the IPS students are Black and only 19 percent of teachers are Black. Study after study has indicated that Black students’ academic success is dramatically increased when they are taught by teachers who look like them. Again, no surprise. But for any nonbelievers — a study released in 2018 by Johns Hopkins concluded that Black students in K-12 education who have just one Black teacher are 13 percent more likely to go to college. Advocate for teacher diversity in IPS. 

This is why you, me, we  — all of us should advocate for better schools, better education, and why we should hold our school system accountable. WE are the monitors of the monitors. Our children deserve better than a D-rated school system. Our students deserve to be adequately prepared for college and beyond. Our students deserve access to higher education. 

Because of parents, teachers; advocate groups such as The Mind Trust, StandUp, UNCF; individuals such as Indianapolis’ own, Dr. Nate Turner and his Raising Supaman Project; programs such as the Parent Involvement Educator program — improvements are happening in our schools. 

It’s often said that parents don’t have the tools they need to advocate. Below is a list of websites with advocacy tools and resources.

• UNCF’s Grasstops Toolkit – tips and tools to help you advocate to alleviate long-standing achievement gaps in education. 

• Volunteer with Stand for Children Indiana — they’re looking for passionate volunteers with an interest in ensuring all children graduate from school prepared for and with access to college. 

• Attend a community conversation or other event sponsored by The Mind Trust. These events allow you to learn about ways you can improve educational opportunities in the city. 

• Connect with your local UNCF office to learn about opportunities. The UNCF Indianapolis office not just provides African American students with scholarships to schools, the office has also been deeply involved in helping to pass the most recent 2018 Operating and Capital Referendum which helped to fund teacher raises, services to special needs students, and classroom safety.

Change for anything takes time, but the lives and the future of our city’s future is at stake. In 2018 the board underwent an election and subsequently three new board members took office. Together, let’s let them know that the future of our city is in their hands — high quality education should be their highest priority. Our children deserve it. 

Cassandra Anderson is the Indianapolis community engagement manager of K-12 Advocacy at United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and a board member of Ignite Achievement Academy. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CAndersonIndy.

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