An award-winning administrator has joined Carmel Clay Schools as its director of mental health after the school board voted 4-1 to fill the position at its May 15 meeting.
Brooke Lawson spent the previous six years in a similar role at Hamilton Southeastern Schools. During her time there, she was named the 2023 Indianapolis Colts Classroom Quarterback of the Year, the 2022 Administrator of the Year by the Indiana Counseling Association and the Hero of the Month by Prevail, among other honors.
In her new role, Lawson will lead the team of CCS school counselors and social workers and oversee contracted services with Ascension St. Vincent, which provides on-site mental health services.
“We follow an extensive process to recruit quality professionals through the initial application, multiple rounds of interviews, background and reference checks,” CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said. “Brooke rose to the top of a very competitive pool of candidates, and we are excited she is bringing her vast experience in mental health, leadership, expertise and heart for students to Carmel Clay Schools.”
Lawson replaces Stephanie Whiteside, who is leaving to work in the private sector. Whiteside joined CCS in 2019 as the district’s first mental health coordinator.
School board member Greg Brown voted against filling the position, which was part of the consent agenda. At the meeting, he proposed postponing the vote, saying he wanted board members to have more time to provide input on their vision for addressing students’ mental health before hiring for a “very important position.” He also said he believes it’s important for district officials to dig further into why many students struggle with mental health.
When reached by phone May 16, Brown said that his vote wasn’t against hiring Lawson, whom he said he knows very little about, but against the process that led to her hire. He said the district didn’t provide any information to school board members about Lawson beyond her name in recommending her to fill the role. Personnel reports, which are included in the consent agenda vote at school board meetings, typically do not include more information on recommended hires than that.
Brown said he learned elsewhere that Lawson works at HSE. Last year, HSE voters elected four GOP-backed candidates to the school board who quickly used their majority to dismantle several initiatives, such as ending a Panorama student survey and removing a policy on microaggressions from the student handbook. In part because of the upheaval in HSE, Brown said he would have liked an opportunity for CCS board members to ask questions and review the proposed hiring of Lawson during an executive session, a meeting closed to the public where personnel matters may be discussed.
“Why would you recommend someone from Hamilton Southeastern? They just had a big change on the board, because people weren’t happy with the direction Hamilton Southeastern was going. Is that problem going to come over to Carmel? That would have been a question I would have asked the administration,” said Brown, who was the only member of a slate of GOP-backed candidates in Carmel to be elected to the board in 2022.
At the meeting, school board member Louise Jackson said she agreed with Brown that educators should strive to understand the complexities of why many students struggle with mental health, but she didn’t believe those efforts should slow filling the open position.
“I do trust our administration has tried to really vet the best person to fill the role to support our children,” Jackson said to Brown. “I’m happy to continue to discuss your concerns and needs; that’s why we are a board that is diverse, but I’m thankful we’re not going to delay filling that role any longer.”
Several hours before the meeting, Brown sent an email to a group he described to Current as a “handful of friends” alerting them of Lawson’s pending hire (and connections to HSE) and recommending they share any concerns they had about it at the school board meeting.
Brown, who stated in the email he was writing as a concerned Carmel citizen rather than a school board member, said he sent the note because without it the recipients would likely be unaware the board was being asked to fill the position. School board meeting agendas publicly list that the personnel report is part of the consent agenda, but the contents of the report are not included. Members of the public may request it by contacting CCS.
“If the public looked at the consent agenda, we have hidden the personnel report. There was no mention that this person was going to be brought in from Hamilton Southeastern in the agenda,” Brown said. “I felt it appropriate to let some of the community that has told me they’re interested in knowing about important board meetings know, because there’s no other way they would know that this has been brought up.”
School board President Katie Browning said she was disappointed that Brown “did not adhere to our board communication expectations and that he shared deliberative information.”
“As a board, our role is to make and adhere to policies and oversee the superintendent, not to manage the capable human resources personnel who continue to bring us the best talent for our schools,” Browning said. “I hope in the future all members will continue to follow best practices so that we may effectively perform the duties of the board with professionalism and positive collaboration.”