Sep 14, 2023 - News

Hamilton Southeastern superintendent Yvonne Stokes resigns

Side by side photos of a woman and a man

Stokes (left) was the first Black woman to lead HSE. Kegley (right) will serve as interim while the board searches for its next superintendent. Photos: Courtesy of Hamilton Southeastern Schools

For the second time in three years, Hamilton Southeastern Schools is looking for a new superintendent.

Driving the news: The HSE board accepted the resignation of superintendent Yvonne Stokes on Wednesday morning, one month into the school year and nine months before her initial contract was set to expire. She joined the district in 2021.

  • The separation agreement includes a non-disclosure provision and prohibits her from suing the district, in exchange for paying out the remainder of her contract.

Why it matters: Stokes' resignation looks likely to exacerbate a bitter fight over social and political issues in Fishers that's played out at school board meetings for the last three years and could further erode public trust.

Flashback: This time last year, slates of conservative candidates were running for school boards all around suburban Indianapolis, seeking to secure new majorities.

  • In many communities, the opposition to sitting board members began with fights over masking and other COVID-19-related policies but morphed into fights about diversity, equity and inclusion for minority and LGBTQ+ students.
  • Locally, HSE was the only district that saw conservative candidates sweep their races and take over the board majority.

The intrigue: Speculation about Stokes' future with the district began almost immediately after that election.

  • Several of the newly elected board members had been vocal critics of the district's leadership before their election.
  • Chris Greisl, the board's legal counsel, said he was approached two weeks ago by Stokes' legal counsel to talk about her resignation.

Between the lines: Several community members who spoke during public comment accused the board members of forcing Stokes out.

  • Abby Taylor, president of the Hamilton Southeastern Educators Association, said the board's handling of the announcement — posting a special meeting notice without an agenda and scheduling it for a time when teachers could not attend — "contributed to the continued distrust in our board members."
  • "It festers in the court of public opinion and does a massive disservice to teachers who are looking right now for stability in our central office and in our board of trustees," she said.

Of note: Stokes was not at the meeting.

The other side: "The last few years have presented several challenges for our school district and community," Dawn Lang, board president, said at the start of the meeting. "However, I believe these challenges presented us with the opportunity to choose to come together and collectively identify a path forward."

  • "Today is one of those opportunities," she said. "Change is never easy, but it is always better to navigate it together."

The latest: Assistant superintendent Matt Kegley will step in as interim superintendent while the board launches a search.

What we're watching: Stokes' departure could impact support for an operating referendum HSE has placed on the November ballot, with the goal of adding teachers and reducing class sizes.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Indianapolis.

More Indianapolis stories