Stephen Gainey works with a student at Charles Fairbanks.

From 1971 through 1985, there was a member of the Gainey family enrolled at Charles W. Fairbanks School 105. Over the years, the five siblings took their turn playing on the same playground, eating in the same lunchroom, and learning from the same teachers.

And now, Stephen Gainey — the fourth of five siblings — is back in the school where he serves Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) as the district’s lead Dean of Culture, Climate, Equity, and Inclusion.

“Next to my parents, there were no stronger influences on our lives than those teachers we were fortunate to encounter at Charles W. Fairbanks,” he said. “Our mother was the PTO president for several years, she was a room mother many times over, and my father would attend all the school activities in which we took part while students.

“As a student, the teachers and administrators I encountered made a lasting impact on me and were the catalyst for me entering the field of education. I always wanted to do the same for this emerging generation.”

Every day, Gainey walks the halls and sees rooms that his teachers held sway decades ago. There’s a classroom where Jean Binckley helped kindergartners learn the basics. Not far away is the room that Cheryl Hamilton taught first grade for many of her 35 years at the school.

“Both were instrumental in our educational nourishment as kids,” he said.

In other classrooms, teachers like Gordon Joslin and Para McFarland-Galed developed his family’s interests in art and music.

“For me, Janice Williams had the biggest impact. She was my fifth-grade teacher who was a new educator when I was her student. She was a unique teacher and had incredible talent. She became an administrator in her later years in IPS. She was ahead of her time with the creativity she displayed back in 1982.

“I was fortunate that I had teachers at Fairbanks who were ahead of their time. Maybe all the times I thought these heroes were on my back, they were watching my back. For that, that, I thank them.”

After graduating from college, Gainey begin his teaching career in 1999 in the MSD of Warren Township, where he was an educator and administrator for 21 years.

He returned to his old stomping grounds in 2020. It didn’t take long for the memories of his childhood to wash over him.

“I never would have thought that my journey in life and my educational career would return me to the neighborhood and school community where I was once a crossing guard, where I lost to my younger sister in the school spelling bee, where I rode my bike with my friends until the streetlights came on, and where I played kickball on the same playground that future generations would enjoy a game or two.”

In his role as dean of Culture, Climate, Equity, and Inclusion, Gainey supports and advances the district’s culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural humility.

“To say my journey has come full circle is an understatement,” said the 51-year-old. “I have returned to my beginnings — ‘my neighborhood.’ Now it is my turn to provide hope, guide others towards knowledge, inspire students to love, and continue that passion that was demonstrated to me for serving and providing our Fairbanks community with exceptional and equitable educational experiences.”