By David McGuire
As a black teacher I’m conscious of how few black teachers there are out there, and black educators in higher positions of authority are even rarer. But Marion County, Indiana, boasts a remarkable number of black superintendents, five in all, and they serve as inspiring role models for the teachers and students they lead. In the fourth of a five-part series profiling each of the five, please meet Dr. Dena Cushenberry, Superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township.
Indianapolis’ Warren Township district is huge and its needs are great. Its high school and 16 other schools serve more than 12,000 students, and more than 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches.
Nevertheless, under the leadership of Superintendent Dena Cushenberry, the district has become a standout, not just in Indy but in the nation as a whole. In 2012, only six weeks into her position at the helm, Cushenberry applied and then received a piece of the billion-dollar pie distributed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, which rewards school districts for reform, improvement, and success.
Dr. Cushenberry’s mission as an educator includes a commitment to personalized learning and a team dedicated to “positive behavioral interventions” that gives students in trouble alternatives to expulsion. The district also offers free or inexpensive college and vocational classes at the high school’s STEM-certified Walker Career Center, where students can get technical experience before choosing their educational and professional paths.
Perhaps most impressive, Cushenberry is determined that Warren Township students receive full preparation for their lives as digital citizens, with access to the internet and computer technology starting as young as kindergarten.
Some of Dr. Cushenberry’s other achievements include enhanced teacher training and her work with the Educate ME Foundation, which seeks to “transform classrooms, schools, districts, and their communities” by bringing more African Americans into careers in education.
Indianapolis has a true pioneer in Dr. Cushenberry, whose hard work toward improving education and opportunities for her district’s children can serve as an inspiration to all educators.