April 6, 2018

The past few months have been exhilarating for Venita Moore, an IPS Board commissioner who took on the role of vice president in January 2018.

One of seven district commissioners, Moore is a business owner, wife and mother of two, who knows a lot about the IPS community and its schools.

Her family has a long IPS history. Moore attended IPS from elementary through high school and is a proud graduate of Arlington High School. She received her bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in Tennessee and a master’s degree from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in Georgia.

Moore respects the value of education as it has always been a key foundation of her success. 

Venita Moore

She’s the co-founder and chief operating officer of Engaging Solutions, a local consulting firm. Although very proud of her business’ growth and the success she’s had with her three partners, Moore admits she’s still trying to find balance between leading her own company and addressing concerns within her beloved community as an IPS commissioner representing District 2.

Moore said she is dedicated to meeting IPS students and families where they are to ensure the best educational experience for everyone.

She recently took time out of her busy day to share her visions and goals for the district.

Your IPS roots run deep. You attended IPS schools and also come from a long lineage of IPS graduates. Please explain your legacy with the district.

My mother graduated from Crispus Attucks High School and I graduated from Arlington High School. My stepson, Kendrick, also graduated from Arlington. And my daughter, Macié, went to Crispus Attucks, which she always thought was the best thing since slice bread.

I allowed my daughter to choose which high school she would attend, and she ultimately chose Crispus Attucks because of the quality of the programs and to continue our family’s IPS legacy.

What does IPS mean to you?

(IPS is the) framework for our community. It’s the steppingstone for our children.

You represent District 2. What is the makeup of your district and how are you working to represent and/or support the families in your district through IPS?

While my district is diverse, it is primarily African-American. My district includes the far eastside, which, in my opinion, has a lot man-made deserts (including food and schools) that we need to address.

I am a believer that District 2 should have a variety of educational instructional models for our children. I am eager to see some of the magnet programs become available in District 2 and the far eastside. I am committed to fighting for quality schools within the IPS school system and especially District 2. Schools serve as flagships and anchors in the community. As for myself, I feel a need to find more ways to become connected and visible within the communities that make up my district. I believe (IPS Commissioner, At-Large) Elizabeth Gore is a role model in this area because she seems to keep her finger on the pulse of the community.

Further, we as an organization and we as a country have to try to meet our children where they are. I can’t expect the learning experience I had growing up to be the same for our children today. That’s why I believe our students should be given options. I think IPS must grow into where our world is going. 

What propelled you to run for a seat on the IPS school Board and then later for office?

When I ran for this position, I ran for several reasons. I went back and forth, thinking about my responsibilities, expectations and how I would be able to do a good job. My daughter kept saying, “If not you, then who? Don’t you owe IPS your success, and isn’t it your time to pay it forward? As an IPS graduate, don’t you care about where the (district) is going?” My daughter influenced me to believe I was the perfect one for the job. Then I began to think about what I brought to the table: I am a product of IPS; I came from a similar background as many IPS students; I look like many of the students who attend our schools; and as an added bonus, I am a CPA, who’s trained to think, analyze and decide. These are good qualities to bring to the Board, including my openness and belief in making needed change, but not change for the sake of change.

As a graduate of Arlington High School, you didn’t agree with turning your alma mater into a middle school. Why and how do you reconcile the Board’s decision?

I reconcile the decision knowing we all knew that we couldn’t continue to properly finance all the high schools and provide all students with the quality of education they deserve. We knew we couldn’t continue operating the schools in the same manner as before and give our children better educational and social opportunities.

Of course, as a graduate of Arlington, the school is dear to my heart. Arlington was taken over by the state, then returned to IPS. The community and alumni organized and rallied to assure Arlington had a chance for success, beginning with the takeover to the potential of IPS closure. Arlington was fighting back; it was coming back. So, yes, closing Arlington was one of the hardest challenges representing District 2. I also have to acknowledge that another high school in my district, John Marshall High School was set to close. My concern was that although I knew there was a financial reason for some closures, the eventual plan meant that all of the high schools would be in the core of the city. IPS is so much bigger than the core, and that was my issue. I knew schools had to be closed, but disagreed with which schools we decided to close. It was where those schools were located, and what the community looked like around those schools. We all know that change is hard and that someone is going to be upset, but, overall, the purpose becomes what happens in the end. Right now, we can’t see it because we are walking through it.

I also want people to understand that you must be at the table to make change. What I want to continue to be is a bridge for those individuals who aren’t at the table and don’t understand some of the decisions being made. I hope to be that bridge for the naysayers and innovators in order to have more diverse conversations to build better solutions for our children. I am interested in hearing all voices and opinions so we can make the best-informed decisions.

During your run for a seat on the Board, your campaign was based on several platforms. Since joining the Board, please explain how each of the following has been or is being addressed.

  • Employing and retaining quality teachers and staff:

IPS’ administration has struggled to compete with other districts concerning raises. I didn’t quite realize that some of the teachers and staff hadn’t had raises for a number of years. The administration brought raises for employees to the Board (this year) and it was the right thing to do, not just for the educators but for all staff. All employees have a hand in shaping our children’s future. And as we know, while pay/money is not necessarily the only reason we were having difficulties hiring teachers, it is a key factor. In the past few months, in states around the country, teachers have been shining a light on low pay.

  • Safe schools:

I don’t agree with teachers having guns in schools; I don’t think that will resolve anything. Honestly, I am unsure what we can do yet, but we do know that school safety must be addressed. I want to hear the opinions of people in the district and other experts about what needs to happen to improve security.

  • Ending the school-to-prison pipeline (a national trend in which students, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are funneled out of public schools and into juvenile centers and prisons because of behavioral problems).

Again, I say we must meet children where they are and try to tailor different programs that meet their needs to eliminate the school-to-prison pipelines. We must see our children as individuals and realize that each student will have an individualized experience with us, and us with them. We cannot separate their out-of-school experience from their experience within the school house. Many children bring in family issues, family burdens and challenges that are beyond our understanding.

However, it is our duty to be cognizant of that and realize our job is not solely to teach. We must have teachers who are dedicated to the profession and are willing to be an educator past 5 p.m. We must create programs that interest our children, that help them form hobbies, help them find their passion, and teach them transferable skills. To end the pipeline, we must be invested in all our students from the beginning, regardless if they are a “troublemaker” or a straight A student. As alumni, we must be willing to give back by donating money, donating time, and/or donating expertise. It’s a community effort, and it takes all hands on deck.

  • School accountability and family and community engagement:

One thing I constantly promoted during my run for commissioner was meeting people where they are; this includes ensuring that our community understands their rights, are aware of changes and are involved in the process in order to hold us accountable. To meet them, we must engage them.  

In meeting them where they are, I am very methodical and analytical. I look at facts to determine if the creation and direction of different educational programs is conducive to the success for our children and families. I always try to understand the gap — the issues causing our schools to fail our children. What are most of our children not receiving; what is the need of many of our children that we have failed to address? Somewhere there is a gap where children are missing something to better their education. I am open-minded and committed to evaluating options that are best for our students.

Regarding their success, we are all accountable — from the news outlets publishing stories and current events, to the teacher in the classroom, the parent at home, and the neighbor who allows children to visit his/her garden. We all own some sort of accountability; we all play some part in their learning experience as a community.

There has been an increase in school shootings across the country. Students are taking a more activist approach to end gun violence to make their schools safe. What are your thoughts about this student-led movement?

I think the movement is making everyone reevaluate where they are as far as listening to the youth. I think young people have an idea of the world they’re living in and we as adults should be open to listening, helping and directing them. It’s impressive to see such commitment and passion. I have a concern with young children, like 7- and 8-year-olds, being exposed, but in some families, young children face heavy challenges, so they too have a voice. It’s not just school violence, it’s community violence, and violence against our communities.

So, I think the message has become more diversified, and it’s not just children being killed in Chicago by a stray bullet, or an unarmed black boy being shot in Ohio. This is a danger all children are facing, regardless of their socio-economic status, regardless of the color of their skin, and people are forced to look at it head on because it could literally be any one of our children. This is reality. I’m happy that people are listening to the youth movement and students have a right to be involved and aid in creating the solution — it is their world.

IPS is launching All-Choice High Schools for the 2018-19 school year, which include college-and-career academies. Why was this decision made and how will it impact students and the community?

It’s more about increasing the quality of our schools and opportunities for our students. To ensure that regardless of a student’s career choice, we have programs available to help them achieve their goals and dreams.

It is important that our students can gain college credit while in high school, which allows them to become accustomed to college rigor. It is also important that Indianapolis businesses want to become involved in the design and implementation of our high school academies, and that we seek certifications and apprenticeships for students so they are prepared for employment — making a livable and sustainable wage after high school. I am enthusiastic that businesses like mine can become involved in these programs. It gives students the opportunity to understand what it means to be an engineer, entrepreneur, doctor, etc., and allows our children to be connected to and nurtured by people with experience that look like many of them, and that came from where they are now.

IPS continues to acquire innovation and charter schools, which isn’t sitting well with some. Why is this a position the Board has decided to take?

Every child has the right to be taught in a manner in which they are best able to learn. I think every child deserves the opportunity to experience life in the best way they can identify with. If IPS tried to replicate this on their own, it would extend the timeline or perhaps they would not be able to do so. Sometimes you need partnerships: people, places and things to get you to the place you want to be. I understand that some people are concerned; I am trying to understand their concerns. If ever I thought someone was trying to become part of IPS strictly because they were trying to profit off the backs of our children, I would oppose it. But, if in fact, we are trying to make a difference and trying different solutions, then I am on board. 

What’s your ultimate goal for the district?

That IPS becomes a district that people think about first — with quality graduates continually being highlighted within our district.

You have a full-time job and serve on the Board of the largest school district in Indiana. How do you unwind?

I am trying to figure that out. I am working through this process of trying to find the balance between professional and personal life. I do like to travel; I love St. Martin. I also really enjoy reading and being Macié’s mother. My husband Joseph and I love to travel and keep our family connected.

Any final words or thoughts?

I hope IPS’ legacy will be around for a long time and continue to grow. I know IPS will become a school (system) of choice. When people move to Indianapolis, I want one of the reasons to be because they see IPS as an outstanding public school system.