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A Tribute to Our Advocacy in Indy

Access to High-Quality Schools, Parent & Family Engagement, Who We Are | 05/20/2016

Justin Ohlemiller
Executive Director

Justin Ohlemiller is the Executive Director of Stand for Children Indiana.

Where were you 20 years ago? Me? I was an 18-year-old kid with zits, a smart mouth, and a passion for political movements, but I had no clue how to turn that passion into actual progress for under-served communities. (But I was pretty good at allowing my smart mouth to get me into trouble on more than one occasion.)

It was June 1, 1996, and I was preparing for my freshman year at Butler University (go Dawgs!). I had no idea that 570 miles away, a movement was starting that would eventually change my life and help improve educational opportunities for children in Indianapolis and other cities across the nation. On that day, more than 300,000 people rallied in Washington, D.C. to show support for improving the lives young people. Civil rights legend Rosa Parks famously told the crowd gathered on “Stand for Children Day” at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “If I can sit down for justice, you can stand up for children.” Those words, along with the leadership of Jonah Edelman and Eliza Leighton, ignited the movement that led to Stand for Children, the organization I’m now proudly a part of.

On this 20th anniversary of our organization, it seems apt to pay tribute to some of the heroic advocates in Indianapolis who have inspired and shown me how to translate passion into progress for the children of IPS.

In my tenure at Stand Indiana, the movement for change began with the leadership of Eugenia Murry and Ashley Thomas, both parents of students at IPS school 93. These two moms led a months-long push in the spring of 2014 to bring Project:RESTORE, a successful school turnaround model, to their failing school. When a local reporter asked Ashley why she did not just take her kids out of school 93 since it was so bad, she looked at him and said, “What about the other 350 kids in that school? Who is going to stand up for them?” Thanks to Ashley and Eugenia, the campaign to rally parents for Project:RESTORE was successful, and School 93 saw some of the largest increases in performance in the state, raising its school grade from an F to a C.

In 2015, a group of IPS parents and stakeholders came together to create their own vision for IPS. The “Every Child, Every Neighborhood” plan was a series of ideas these IPS parents wanted district leaders to include the new IPS strategic plan. These advocates went even further by launching a petition drive to garner more than 1,000 signatures in support of their ideas, and then they presented those signatures to the IPS Superintendent and board members. In the end, many of the parents’ ideas were included in the new IPS strategic plan, which is guiding efforts now to turn around several chronically low-performing schools.

And then there was Ms. Mary Lloyd and her trip to the Statehouse in 2014. Mary was an IPS grandmother and had never stepped foot in the Statehouse, let alone testify in front of legislators. But during Stand’s push for the Innovation Schools law, Mary -- in both House and Senate committee hearings -- nervously, but still powerfully, said, “I am a just humble grandmother asking you to help our kids.” Weeks later, Mary would stand beside Governor Mike Pence as he signed the Innovation Schools bill into law. Now that law is being put to work to bring innovative school models and new leadership to IPS schools that have long failed thousands of students in IPS. The law could end up being the single most important tool district leaders have to alter the path of the nearly 15,000 kids in IPS who attend D- or F-rated schools.

These parents, and so many more who I don’t have room in this blog to mention, are Indy’s own version of Rosa Parks. They are standing up for children. And more importantly, they’re getting results. It’s these Stand parents, and hundreds like them, who finally taught a (former) smart-mouthed kid from Butler University how to translate passion into progress.

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