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Fort Wayne flavor to charter board

Fort Wayne, with three of the state's 50-plus charter schools, ends up with two appointments to the new seven-member state charter board. Jamie Garwood of the Fort Wayne Urban League is Senate President Pro Tem David Long's pick, joining Mark GiaQuinta, president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board. He was appointed by House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer.

Other board members include Robert Koch II, an Evansville businessman appointed by state Superintendent Tony Bennett, and Larry DeMoss, an Edgewood High School English teacher (and former "Jeopardy!" contestant). He was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson. Two more board members are yet to be named.

The appointments are falling into place about as expected, given the appointment authority: GiaQuinta and DeMoss from traditional public school backgrounds and Koch and Garwood with strong ties to charter schools. The remaining two appointments will be made by the governor.

Garwood is among a group of Paul Harding High School community members who unsuccessfully pushed for its conversion to a charter school this year. She participated in the Turnaround Leadership Academy at Marian University in Indianapolis. The university's president, Dan Elsener, is a member of the State Board of Education, and Bennett's wife coordinated the Teach for America program at the university until her resignation in February, after conflict of interest charges began swirling. The DOE in 2010 gave a $500,000 contract to Marian to operate the Turnaround Leadership Academy.

The Fort Wayne Urban League made a pitch to operate Harding as a charter school earlier this year, and said Garwood would oversee operations there and select its new leader under the Urban League plan.

Interestingly, National Urban League President Marc Morial expressed reservations about charter schools when he met with The Journal Gazette in late February.

Claire Fiddian-Green is executive director of the new state charter board, which was created in the last legislative session in a push to expand the number of Indiana charter schools. Superintendent Tony Bennett has said he expects new charters to be approved by the end of this year.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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