Derek Payne and Gary Robinson

Eight candidates are on the ballot for three available seats on the Center Grove Community School Corp. School Board.

All the seats in this race are at-large, so all voters in the school district will get to select three of the eight candidates on the ballot to serve on Center Grove’s school board.

Because of the volume of candidates, coverage of this school board race will be split into four parts, each featuring two candidates. This is the third part, and the remaining part will publish in the coming days leading up to the first day of early voting on Oct. 12.

Incumbents Scott Alexander and Jack Russell, who have been on the school board since 2010, are running for reelection. They are challenged by Doug Bohall, Bill Collins, Bruce Guiliani, Gary Robinson, Derek Payne and Nicholas Smither.

Current school board member Joe Hubbard’s seat is also up for grabs, but he is not running for reelection because he plans to run for Greenwood mayor next year.

The five-member school board is responsible for setting the school district’s annual budget, approving teacher contracts, hiring and reviewing the superintendent, setting policies and procedures, and making decisions regarding construction projects and any school redistricting that may be necessary.

The Daily Journal emailed questions to each candidate asking about their experience and goals, if elected. Part three features answers from Payne and Robinson. With some edits for grammar and length, here’s what they said:

What drew you to run for this office?

Payne: Education is supposed to be formative and shape our students into responsible adults with the appropriate skills, knowledge, critical thinking and motivations to contribute and grow in our society. Anything else is just a distraction and an effort to indoctrinate a whole new generation into an ideology or identity. It’s my job as a parent to step in when I feel my children need protection. I’m running for school board to do just that and I will work to bring the voice back to the parents and families of our children. It is the job of the family to raise their kids, not the school system. The rights of parents trump school policy.

Robinson: I have lived and worked in the Center Grove School Corporation my entire life, and I am deeply committed to the preservation of this community and its reputation for excellence. People move to White River Township to enroll in our schools, our churches, our sports programs, and all that we have to offer. We don’t have a town or a city. We have Center Grove Schools as a focal point … I want what is best for our students, teachers and parents so that they also feel connected to this place of which I am and have always been so proud.

What qualifications do you have to serve on a school board?

Payne: I bring strong convictions, approachability, creative solutions, faith-based discernment and a responsibility and commitment to families that this position demands.

Robinson: I have 43 years of experience as a public school educator; I was the 2018 Center Grove Community School Corporation Teacher of the Year, 2018 Semi-finalist for the Indiana Teacher of the Year, Middle School Central curriculum coordinator, Middle School Central mentor teacher, Middle School Central social studies department chair … Middle School Central academic team leader … I am currently a volunteer football coach at Middle School Central.

What are the most pressing issues facing your school district, if there are any?

Payne: Public schools should not be in the business of raising our children. Public schools should not be able to decide whether certain social agendas or ideologies are appropriate for our children. A public school should not decide whether sexual identity or pornographic curriculum is appropriate for our children. A public school should not influence or promote any belief system. A public school should not be in the business of hiding information or making decisions for the parents. A public school should not make it difficult for parents to opt-out of any inappropriate curriculum. A public school should be transparent and listen to the parents of the district, rather than make it difficult or impossible to speak on important issues.

Robinson: Our community continues to grow and will continue to grow at a rapid pace resulting in increased student enrollment, especially in the southern area of our district. Continual improvement and upgrading in safety and security measures and training for all stakeholders should continue to be a priority. Returning to pre-pandemic rigor and continuing to work to close learning gaps while maintaining high expectations is a challenge for schools at all levels.

Meeting the growing needs of students whose native language is something other than English is a reality in our corporation. Our district currently serves students who have 38 different native languages, and our ENL, or English as a New Language, programs are always in need of more instructional support. Increasing the opportunities for students looking for vocational training options will mean greater success for our Center Grove graduates.

What are your top three goals, if elected?

Payne: First, give a voice back to the parents and make it easier for them to communicate their desires and concerns with the district, not alienate them or remove them from the decision-making. Second, I believe that our educational institutions should emphasize a traditional approach that places primary responsibility on parents and guardians to raise their kids and provide the support to do so. At the core, our schools should create a lifelong passion for learning. We need to keep politics, social justice and progressive ideology out of the school and focus on a strong foundational curriculum. Third, I’d like to see incentives and performance- and competency-based compensation increases and rewards for our teachers and faculty. Additionally, provide teachers with more support and resources for running and supplying their classrooms.

Robinson: First, classroom size and student/teacher ratio: smaller classes can result in higher test scores and few discipline problems … We cannot burden teachers with overcrowded classrooms and expect the same level of achievement and success. Second, clearly communicated and practiced safety protocols for all possible scenarios. Our corporation has made significant gains in this area, and I would like to see them continue to prioritize the need for training and preparation for all scenarios on our campuses. Third, addressing the issue of increasing growth within the school system without burdening the individual taxpayers. Growth is going to be an ongoing reality in our community, especially within our school corporation. I am dedicated to seeking fiscal solutions to projects that will have minimal effect on our local taxpayers.

How would you define social emotional learning? Do you think it has a place in schools?

Payne: I believe SEL is a learning program that promotes the ideas of social justice and identity-based propaganda to indoctrinate children how to have proper attitudes, behaviors and ethical decision-making skills of a progressive worldview. I also believe that SEL is a delivery mechanism for CRT, or Critical Race Theory, and promotes “equity” over “responsibility.” In short, I believe that SEL is taking over the responsibility of the parent. SEL is an effort to divide students from their parents and the traditional family ideas through emotional manipulation and an indoctrination scheme … It should not be in our schools.

Robinson: SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, establish and maintain positive relationships, feel and show empathy for others, and make responsible decisions. As a former teacher, I understand the importance of a child’s need to learn how to manage emotions and attitudes before they could ever engage in learning academic content in a classroom. I also believe in parent choice on this topic and respect their right to opt-out. My hope is that parents and guardians would read the information regarding SEL available on the school website and then would make an informed choice for their child.

How would you define CRT? Do you think CRT is being taught in this school district?

Payne: The way I understand it, CRT is an academic movement with the intention of transforming the way race and race relations are perceived and conceptualized in society. By over-simplifying these perceptions, it promotes an entirely new conception of racism to students, which is to center their identity and the identity of those around them on race being their main defining characteristic.

Additionally, CRT is a framework that promotes a struggle for power between races and demands people be treated as members of a group identity, and not as individuals with their own life experiences. I believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcome. I believe in responsibility. People have unique experiences, skills, talents, God-given gifts, motivations and desires and this should affect the outcomes that are manifested within each situation.

Robinson: CRT has been used to fuel many politically charged debates recently and has so many layers in its definition. To attempt any definition here would result in an over-simplification. What I am comfortable saying is that I am totally against CRT being taught in the school district. I taught seventh- and eighth-grade social studies for 43 years, and I can tell you that CRT is not written in any of our state standards, nor is it discussed as any part of our middle school social studies curriculum. I know of no instances where this subject matter is taught in our district.

What else would you like to say to voters?

Payne: The thing that most sets me apart is the fact that I do not have a desire to be in a position of power, nor want to parlay this opportunity into anything else. I only want to do what is best for my kids and try to be a voice for other families. I will stand by my convictions because I have nothing to lose, nor look for anything to gain other than protecting our kids and creating a secure place for them to be. I will make myself available and take the top issues I hear from the community back to the board for discussion. I will strive to provide resolutions to questions and give parents the platform they desire.

Robinson: I bring a new perspective to our school board—a focus on learning and a return to upholding high academic standards. The skills I bring to the table will help the board maneuver through the ever-changing world of educational programs, trainings, standards and assessments. I also understand the importance of being proactive in the face of the challenges our growing district faces including safety for all, an enrollment of over 9,600 students, and the need for transparency with all stakeholders. Now is the time for our schools to get back to providing the learning that all our students deserve and parents expect.

The Payne File

Name: Derek Payne

Age: 40

Family: Wife; four children

Occupation: Product designer at Salesforce

Education: Floyd Central High School; Purdue University

Political experience: None

Memberships: Emmanuel Church Impact Team, small group leader

The Robinson File

Name: Gary Lee Robinson

Age: 66

Family: Wife; three children

Occupation: Retired teacher, taught 43 years

Education: Center Grove High School; Franklin College; DePauw University

Political experience: None

Memberships: Southland Community Church; Indiana Basketball Coaches Association