POSTED BY: THE REPORTER OCTOBER 19, 2022
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Dear Editor: Recently, Hamilton Southeastern Schools Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Stokes has alleged that misinformation about the HSE school district has been presented (ostensibly by Fishers One) during the current HSE school board race that is in full swing. It is both disappointing and puzzling that Dr. Stokes could assert such a distorted falsehood against the slate of four candidates, backed by Fishers One, when these candidates may be her bosses one day. Publicly criticizing your potential bosses hardly seems like a wise career move.
Fishers One is a grassroots community organization with the goal of restoring academic excellence in the Hamilton Southeastern Schools.
Actually, to the chagrin and displeasure of the parents, and the entire HSE community, it has been Dr. Stokes, and certain school board members, who have been the authors of misinformation.
Time and again, the Board Members who voted to hire Dr. Stokes have deceived and outraged a community of parents and patrons to the point that all trust in HSE Schools has been lost. Transparency and parental rights, two of the tenets of the candidates supported by Fishers One, have become major casualties of the current HSE Administration and the School Board. Fishers One has actually shined a “light of truth” on the policies and actions of the Administration and the Board, who have operated and made decisions based on “vagaries” and a lack of solid data. Allow me to be more specific.
Microaggression When the addition of the Microaggression language was being proposed to the student handbook, the Administration’s presenter assured the Board and the community that “a rigorous review process which includes considerations from feedback of our students, our teachers, staff, Board Members as well, and our Administration,” had been conducted. Where do they say that parents were consulted about this major policy addition? During my three-term stint on the HSE school board beginning in the late 1980s, the Board always brought the parents into any major or controversial decisions. Where was the Board’s and the Administration’s transparency on the microaggression discussions?
Social justice Upon Dr. Stokes’ hiring by the Board in April 2021, Dr. Stokes was quoted as saying, “Please don’t fret about academic excellence. We’re here to make sure that our students have academic excellence. I will make sure that continues to happen.” However, hers and the Board’s actions belie that statement. Dr. Stokes, on a HSE posting on HSESchools.org, states the following:
“Our children thrive in our schools when they understand their value, know they are loved and supported and are inspired to excel in all facets of their lives. Transforming learning and life outcomes for students through education, equity, and excellence requires an all-hands-on-deck approach by ALL of us.”
This statement does not really express the goals of academic excellence, but hints at a social justice agenda. Upon leaving her post as Assistant Superintendent at Munster Schools, The Crier newspaper in its May 11, 2021 edition pointed to Dr. Stokes’ greatest achievements, in her own words, of working with “underserved populations – black and brown students (and) non-English speaking students.” Furthermore, her experience at Munster Schools “impacted her greatly” as their district had “courageous and difficult conversations about race and equity.”
It seems that Dr. Stokes’ career background and passion has focused on social justice issues rather than academic excellence. Was social justice the real basis on which five board members voted to hire Dr. Stokes rather than academic excellence?
This appears to be another case of lack of transparency.
Should the monies paid to a Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer and the more than 90 part-time equity counselors have been better spent on academic programs?
Academics Regardless of what the HSE administration and school board say, academic scores and ratings within the district have tumbled. In 2006, HSE Schools was in the top five in the State of Indiana’s public-school districts, according to ISTEP scores published by the IDOE. During my time on the Board during the 1980s and 1990s, the four top school corporations in the state were Carmel, HSE, West Lafayette, and Zionsville. Year in and year out, these school corporations competed for the top spot, the positions changing from one year to the next. During that time, HSE Schools was the fastest growing school corporation in the state. Despite this tremendous growth, HSE still held one of these top spots. This unparalleled growth was created by parents who wanted to move to the HSE district because the schools were top-notch and the community was family-friendly. Today, HSE’s growth has flattened, while HSE’s academic rankings have fallen. More and more families are moving their children to private schools – away from HSE. Also, according to the Indiana Department of Education statistics, HSE ranks number 16. The HSE Board and Administration brag about how NICHE, a school rating organization, has ranked HSE at number 6. It is doubtful that NICHE, a nation-wide organization that ranks K-12 schools, colleges, etc., has better statistics than Indiana DOE. Nevertheless, a dubious sixth-place ranking, if it is accurate, is a drop from the previous top four.
Curiously, HSE has chosen to compare itself, academically, with school corporations of similar student populations like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville, and the like, rather than competing with the best academic school districts.
Again, HSE Schools, led by the Board and the Administration, has offered up lack of clarity and deception to the community, rather than focusing on improving academic performance.
Gender identity As disturbing as a lack of trying to achieve academic excellence is, the secretive way HSE Schools deals with gender identity, sexuality in children, and pronouns is abhorrent.
Gender Support Plans are developed by HSE-hired counselors for students who express a desire, or are coerced, to transition to the opposite sex. In this counseling, a child may acquire a new name and new descriptive pronouns to be used in school, and this information may not be communicated to the parents. These seven hired social workers, scattered across six HSE campuses, are tasked with running “Student Support Groups” related to General Expressions/ LGBTQ+.
Secrecy, not transparency, is at the heart of this gender identity agenda. Could not the monies allocated to these seven social workers have been better spent on academics when gender identity really falls under the purview of parents, not the schools?
HSE Schools needs a change in the school board for the parents and the community to regain trust and for education in the Fishers community to return to the excellence it once enjoyed.
Candidates Pascoe, Albright, Lang, and Orr need to be elected on Nov. 8.
Tom Curry Former HSE School Board Member