Yvonne Stokes said she’s ready for any difficult conversations she might face in her new role as superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools
“I truly believe in listening, learning, supporting and building,” she said.
Prior to her July 1 start date, Stokes said she is trying to meet as many stakeholders and staff members as possible to learn what is working well and areas where change should be considered.
“What, futuristically, do we feel we need to make sure our district continues to be the best district in this area for opportunities for students?” said Stokes, who is finishing a four-year stint as assistant superintendent for the School Town of Munster.
Stokes said she wants to build a solid information highway for parents to get answers to any questions they might have.
“I’m not saying that is not already happening, but we can always do better,” Stokes said. “We want to meet the needs of parents to get information in a timely manner and they are able to act on the information they are receiving.”
Janet Pritchett, president of the HSE Board of School Trustees, is convinced the board made the right call in hiring Stokes on April 22 in a 5-2 vote.
“Dr. Stokes brings a wealth of experience to this role and will provide valuable leadership and strategic thinking to propel our students toward academic growth and success,” Pritchett stated.
Stokes replaces Supt. Allen Bourff, who is retiring.
A group called Fishers One cited concerns about a lack of transparency and communication from the school board in the hiring and what it terms as a “continued progression of an agenda that many Fishers residents find questionable.” As in many school districts in central Indiana, groups such as Fishers One maintain it is concerned about the addition of diversity and inclusion officers and the teachings concerning race and gender equality issues.
“I’m not fearful to have courageous and challenging conversations,” Stokes said. “When I have conversations with people, you might find me asking, ‘Tell me a little more about why you feel that way. Give me your insight to why you think that.’ Often, I can give you information why we strategically may be doing certain things in a district. The biggest thing for me is meeting the needs of all of our children, and all does mean all.
“For someone who has a special education background and has worked with the gifted population, I know all too well that to meet the needs of all our diverse learners, we have to come to the table and talk about, ‘What are your worst fears about this support that we put in place?’”
Stokes said there is often misinformation about school practices.
“Oftentimes, it can be, ‘I have a fear while you are supporting this child you may be taking something from my child,’” she said.
Stokes said the focus is to make sure the school district prepares students to be ready for a variety of options when they leave high school,
“Beyond being civic-minded and giving back to their community by being good citizens, kids need to be able to take on employment that can support them and their families,” she said. “They need to be able to enroll in a university or college of their choice and be able to be academically proficient. They need to be able to enlist in the Armed Services if that’s what they so choose and support our great country. Or they need to go on and become an entrepreneur if that’s what they want to do.”
Stokes said she is proud of her heritage.
“The thing I want people to know is while I have a beautiful brown face, my heart supports all children,” she said. “I come from a very diverse family. In my role, I love children and I love supporting them.”
Return to Fishers
Prior to taking the posisition with Munster schools, Stokes worked in the associate superintendent’s department at Indianapolis Public Schools, where she served as an academic improvement officer. She provided oversight and evaluation of principals, schools and programs. She also helped implement curriculum, assessment and instructional programs. During that stint, she lived in Fishers.
“I liked what I was able to access when I lived here, and I love that it is still growing,” she said.
Before joining IPS, Stokes worked at Blackford County Schools, Marion Community Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools in a variety of roles, including principal, assistant principal, special education services coordinator, director of curriculum and evaluation and teacher.
In 2013, Stokes earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Purdue University, where she also earned an undergraduate degree. She earned a master’s degree in special education from the University of Saint Francis.