Elizabeth Gore’s connection to Indianapolis Public Schools began as a student and has transitioned to one of the principal voices in the district. As one of seven members of the IPS Board of School Commissioners, Gore is in her second term and serves as Board secretary.
The proud IPS alumna is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School (what she calls “the best school in the city”). She also attended IUPUI and Martin University.
Active in the community, Gore serves on boards and with organizations throughout Indianapolis, including the National Counsel of Negro Women, Martindale Brightwood Community Development Corporation, Martindale Brightwood Environmental Justice Collaborative, ONE VOICE and Freetown Village — among many others — to build better relationships for more positive outcomes.
Gore credits her IPS community for being the key foundation of her success and for fueling her passion to serve.
She recently took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her vision for the district and her hopes for maintaining a quality education for all students.
It has been a year since you became IPS commissioner for the second time in your career. How is the second time different than the first?
I think we can say there are a lot of changes; if it’s not the administration, we can say it’s the way the schools are being run to assure students’ stable learning environments. There are some things that I am familiar with while others I am not. But all in all, I’m trying to adjust to the fact that our focus is still on providing quality education.
Why did you initially run for the School Board? What were you trying to accomplish and did it happen?
I really felt I could make a difference. I felt that my prior experience working in IPS as a Title I consultant had provided me the vision to paint what student success looked like at the time. I wanted to assure that children in the district were going to receive the best education and was really committed to assuring quality education never escaped our schools. I knew I could affect the district by creating policies that allowed students to have the best books, teachers and building conditions for a conducive learning environment. I was happy to see the vision in fruition; that these key factors were implemented, which helped the learning environment during that time.
What compelled you to run for commissioner this time around?
Well, I ran again after my first term in 2012; however, I wasn’t successful. Against all odds, I gathered the strength and focused on the importance of being the voice and representing my community. I thought to myself, ‘Why run again? What could I do differently to successfully connect with the community?’ I knew I had wisdom and felt I could be an additional experienced voice to the table. When I won, I felt honored and appreciated that the community had faith that I could do the job and continue to fulfill the goals of the district.
You’re a product of IPS. What was your experience like as a student?
I am a proud alumna of Crispus Attucks High School. My entire family (mother, siblings, etc.) also attended and can attest that Attucks was the best experience as a student. Dr. John Morton-Finney, whom the IPS Education Center is named after, was my Spanish teacher. The teachers held doctoral degrees, which offered students the chance to be afforded a quality education. Through Attucks, I learned to value education to become successful.
Overall, my experience was one in which a student couldn’t fail. There was no nonsense; teachers and staff believed in the students, which enabled students to believe in themselves. I believe each of us (students) adopted self-worth. Today, we may see students who don’t perform well, but if we (teachers/administrators) expect well from our students, they will rise to the occasion.
What was your fondest memory as an IPS student and as an IPS parent?
I’d like to think my fondest memories as a student consist of being part of after-school activities such as the debate team, student fan club and even having an opportunity to work at the school with compensation. Journalism was another favorite activity of mine, in addition to generally enjoying my friends and teachers. I remember our principal Dr. Lane standing in the hall when students arrived off the bus saying “One minute” for students to get to class. I also remember and enjoyed when our basketball team won the state championship for the first time in history. Oscar Robertson and the rest of Attucks students represented the district well.
As an IPS parent, I appreciated being part of my children’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Committee. My children attended Arsenal Technical High School, and as president of the PTA, I wanted to include the students to our meetings, so their voices could be heard. In doing so, the committee was then changed to Parent-Student Association and remains at Tech today.
How is IPS different now than when you were a student in the district?
To be honest, when I was a student there was consistency. The teachers I had, my siblings shared as well. There wasn’t a high turnover of teachers and staff leaving the district, rather consistency to build better relations, better rapport with students. There was diversity and just as many male teachers as women. There was no such thing as charter schools and busing remained the same as the majority students went to schools in their neighborhoods up until high school. Innovation wasn’t a thing; we had stability. Moreover, parents knew the teachers and were involved in the schools.
My concern is that our district has shifted drastically and that we don’t see consistency and stability in our schools nor in our communities today. My hope is that we can bring stability back in the district to provide fair opportunities for all students and staff. That the district will mold back into the positive force it’s destined to be.
Throughout the year, the district has gone through a lot of changes. Have you been a consenting or dissenting voice for each of the following and why?
- High school consolidations:
The biggest decision we had to make was the closing of high schools and, of course, I didn’t agree, though I understood the need for closure for the purposes of funding concerns and operating schools appropriately. Though I chose against the choice of which schools to close, I understood the need.
- Addition of innovation schools:
It’s not that I’m dissenting, I’m cautious. The reason I’m cautious is because I don’t want to look back five years from now and say, “Oh, we should have looked into this more strategically.” Just because we are in a panic state doesn’t mean we should rush our decision-making in solving problems within the district. Instead, we should evaluate the problems and allow time to observe changes to assure these methods, these solutions are working for our children. It is my duty to assure we are doing our jobs as leaders of the district.
With that said, I’m currently wanting to slow down the innovation process only to evaluate and see if the presented methods are favorable for our students. Are these methods helping students learn and this is not just a quick fix? Innovation may be the best thing, but it has only been three years and I want to see the results to better judge if these methods are providing quality education.
- Transportation changes:
Again, I understand the need financially; however, I don’t appreciate having students traveling on public transportation. I would like to provide IPS transportation to all students. I would like to get the results from our trial run with Shortridge High School to make a final decision if this method is beneficial – not for the sake of the budget, but what’s best for our students.
You’re an advocate of the saying, “we can agree to disagree.” What do you mean by that and how does that affect students and the district overall – especially when making decisions that affect the district?
There’s always two sides to a story and I’m open to listening. I don’t think we have to be so adamant about decisions if it causes disruption in the district. Instead, come together to find a solution to better serve, better support our students in providing quality education.
Each year, the Board celebrates the accomplishments of the district’s valedictorians and salutatorians. Talk about that experience and its importance.
Some of the most liberating aspects of being part of the district is when we celebrate our schools, teachers, families and community who perform excellence. I am one to congratulate. We often hear our children are failing, but I call that “fake news.” We (IPS) do see our children do well; we do see success from our teachers, students and community.
The Vals and Sals celebration is an exciting time to acknowledge and honor the challenging work our students have accomplished. I am gratified to be back on the Board to witness our young people who we know faced adversity still beat the odds, still persevere and succeed. This moment is inspiring even for myself.
You’ve maintained that you want to help students win. What does that mean and what does that look like?
I feel when a student wins – he or she, above any odds or any tribulation they’ve endured – that they still do well in their classes; they still graduate and go on to college or use their skill to become good citizens. This is why I love our career pathways program because students who aren’t equipped for college can learn a trade and obtain a skill to get a job right out of high school and live a quality life.
As a Board member, if I can vote so students can survive and be good citizens then I will be that person to help students win.
How do you feel about the work you’re doing as an IPS Board Commissioner?
Overall, I feel that what I’m doing is trying to remain open and true to what I believe would be the best thing for our children – in a way in which we as a district can assure our children receive a quality education.
When I was running, one thing I voiced was the value of education and how education is not a game. Education is too important to play with our children’s lives and I still feel this way. We should be serious about the direction of our students. If decisions are not for the best-quality education, I’m not going to go for it. I’m not against change – I just want what’s best.
What is your ultimate goal for the district?
My goal is to see our children grow. In this aspect, I want to see each of them receive the best education. I declare that each student after graduation should be able to function in this world and live successful, quality lives.
Any final words or thoughts?
My hope is that the IPS vision is one that’s going to do well. That IPS continues to provide avenues so that all children have equal opportunities to succeed. As a Board member, I’d like to think it’s our responsibility to make this happen, providing quality education for all.