Eric Halvorson

Justice Center On Hold

February 24th, 2015 at 7:33 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

Justice Center DesignPlans for a new Marion County Justice Center are on hold.   In a Tuesday night session, a committee of the City-County Council voted to hold public meetings and review development materials before proceeding with the project.

If approved, the $400 million dollar project will be built on a portion of the land that once belonged to the GM Stamping Plant, 340 South White River Parkway West Drive.

If it’s not approved, that will be a major disappointment for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.  He counts the Justice Center as “the last thing that had to be done” before he leaves office. “I mean that was one that had been kicked down the road for a long time now.”

The proposal discussed by the committee presents the project as a public-private partnership with WMB Heartland and Justice Partners.  It “would finance, operate and maintain the new complex.”   Ballard calls them “great international partners” and says the partnership comes together in “a window of opportunity that may not come up again for a long time.”

“If we don’t get it done now,” Ballard told me, “it may cost us hundreds of millions more in the future. So, I’m hoping that they get it done right now.”

IMA Chief Explains Admission Fee Plan

December 16th, 2014 at 9:32 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

ima-horizontalThe Indianapolis Museum of Art attracted attention with one announcement, last week.  In the spring, it will charge an $18 admission fee.

Some people said that will be the day they stop going to the IMA.

Tom Hiatt, Chairman of the Board of Governors at the museum, prepared a Letter to the Editor that explains the decision.  I thought I would use this space to share those thoughts.


To the Editor
Last Thursday the Board of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, following a year of research and analysis, voted unanimously to approve a new admissions policy to help secure a strong financial foundation for the Museum. As stewards of one of our community’s most loved cultural assets, we felt we made the only prudent choice we could. I would like to explain why.
The IMA receives less than 1% of its annual budget from government sources. It relies on membership, fund raising efforts, public support and its endowment for more than 99% of its revenue. Many similar institutions in other cities receive significant funding from public sources, which allows them to maintain free admission. This is not the case in Indianapolis.
Our primary goal in instituting an admission charge is to encourage our visitors to become members. We anticipate that a continuing stream of membership income will enable us to reduce our annual draw on our endowment to a sustainable level. At $55 for an individual and $75 for a family, annual membership in the IMA offers many amenities. Membership enables guests to enjoy a full year of unlimited admission to the museum and gardens (including special exhibits), early access and reduced or free admission to events, free parking, and discounts in the Museum Store, greenhouse shop and the IMA Café.

Tom Hiatt

Tom Hiatt

Our research shows that our guests do not like paying separately for parking and exhibitions. For our visitors who do not wish to purchase a membership, starting in April, an adult general admission ticket will be $18 and will include the cost of both exhibitions and parking, as well as other programs. Children ages 6-17 will be charged $10; children ages five and under will be admitted free.
Experiences that will continue to be free to the public include The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres; The Dudley and Mary Louise Sutphin Mall (Five Brushstrokes and LOVE sculptures); the Museum Store and the IMA Café.
Admission to the IMA will be free for scheduled field trips from Marion County public and charter schools; college students from four-year, non-profit and public colleges and universities in Marion County; and the general public the first Thursday of each month from 4-9 p.m.
The campus and programming changes the IMA is making in the months ahead will enable the Museum to continue to deliver exceptional experiences to our visitors.
On behalf of the Board, the IMA staff volunteers and donors who cherish the Museum and who are deeply committed to its future, I wish to thank the community, our members and visitors for the many ways you support the IMA.
The best is yet to come.
Tom Hiatt
Chair, IMA Board of Governors


Headaches of Highway Construction

July 21st, 2014 at 8:53 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

carmel 31No one likes highway construction — except for the people making money from the work. Otherwise, we all complain when we’re stuck in traffic or forced into a detour.

Our problems are minor when compared to what Teresa Mackin found for a few businesses in Carmel.

Monday afternoon, I asked Mayor Jim Brainard about the concerns of the business owners caught in the INDOT construction on U.S. 31.

“The key is the closure’s going to be over by November 1,” he said.  In that case, the alternative would have been work done in stages over many years.  “And, I think businesses are much better able to withstand a bad period that’s relatively short than year after year after year of construction.”

“I think, once that road’s open again, they’re going to get lots of business.  There’ll be more cars using that road.  And things should get better very quickly for them.”

We also asked Brainard about the extension of weight limits at certain intersections in Carmel.  The city decided to take action after seeing some truck drivers “not following the assigned detour routes, ending up on a lot of our side streets.  It’s creating a lot of damage, creating a lot of complaints.”

This is likely to mean more tickets than warnings for violators.


Fire Merger: Not Yet

February 26th, 2014 at 9:35 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

fd“I don’t see what the intellectual basis for opposing the fire merger could possibly be.”

Those are the words of Mayor Bart Peterson in April of 2005.  He was pushing for a fire department merger that today, nine years later, has been only partially – achieved.  Several township departments have become part of the Indianapolis Fire Department over the years.

Pike Township, Wayne Township and Decatur Township are still holding out.  As we saw at the Statehouse today, a lot of people still don’t see the logic of consolidation.

I checked my archives of interviews with Mayor Peterson.  Over the course of 2005, he described consolidation as “an idea that’s hard to argue with.  Smaller, smarter government. Lower taxes for people.   Avoiding service cuts. Avoiding tax increases. It just makes too much sense.”  The concept arose with the discussion of other mergers — Indianapolis Police with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, the call to merge assessors and merge budgets.  Promoters presented all of it as a way to encourage “fiscal discipline” and save money.

It didn’t happen in 2005.

The next year, Peterson thought the environment had changed.  He said he’d heard a lot of talk of compromise.

It didn’t happen in 2006.

“You can’t undertake something like this without having some naysayers. We’ve had naysayers.  But probably fewer naysayers overall on the fire merger than on the police merger,” Peterson said.  He still argued that consolidation would “significantly reduce the overall costs of the fire service” during “the property tax crisis that we are in the midst of right now.”  He persisted in arguing that it would save taxpayers’ money.  “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

But, the legislature just said “no.”  It didn’t happen in 2007.

The battle continued into the administration of Peterson’s successor.  Last year, for example, Mayor Greg Ballard said “I’m not sure the will is there at the Statehouse.”  He pointed to the township trustees who objected to consolidation.  Ballard praised State Senator Jim Merritt for presenting a merger proposal because it “would make a lot of sense to us.”

It didn’t happen in 2013.

At the time, defenders of consolidation said, through the efficiencies of one big department, taxpayers would see fire service provided at a lower cost.  I remember a merger defender accusing the holdout township trustees of being primarily interested in preserving their power.  If they wanted to save money, “they would be joining IFD on their own.”

One fire chief in a holdout township told me his firefighters would get raises and adjusted work schedules.  He predicted consolidation would require additional hiring.  So, he didn’t believe in the promised cost savings.

That chief also said the law allows voluntary mergers.  So, he said if the holdouts wanted to join IFD, they probably would have done it by now.

At the Statehouse today, Chief Gene Konzen of the Wayne Township Fire Department told us “being forced in is not going to help us fix some of the problems that are out there now.”  He even recalled the original plan of 2005.

“If we could get everybody together and sit down and update that plan and create a better system for the entire Indianapolis Fire Department — all of us — I can’t see why our community and firefighters, businesses and all that wouldn’t want to go in as one fire department. I think we just need to rebuild it. Fix it all.”

Maybe they will try, again, in 2015.

Andy Jacobs

December 29th, 2013 at 9:50 am by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

jacobsCongressman Jacobs was one of the most interesting men I’ve met.   And so unlike so many of the people who populate politics today.  I will remember him as a great Hoosier.

Jacobs anticipated his final days on earth as he wrote the final paragraph of his memoir, Slander and Sweet Judgment: 

“The only thing that takes less time than you thought is life.  Which is to say that nothing goes past so fast as the past.  The life of my congressional service took a long time, yet, in a way, less time than I had anticipated.  Is there a happy ending to all this?  No.  And there isn’t a sad one, either, because there isn’t any ending at all.  The philosopher tells us that the most descriptive thing about life is that it goes on.  It goes on with or without us.  For some, life is always the hopeless and therefore unenjoyable calm before the storm; for others, including me, life is the hope-filled storm before the thoroughly enjoyable calm.  As we weather the storms and celebrate the calms of our future, may Almighty God grant us the wisdom and the love “to live together in peace as good neighbors.”

Symphony: “Portable Art”

July 13th, 2013 at 11:46 am by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

Performing at Ellis Park in Danville

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is in the middle of a busy summer.  And that’s music to the ears of everyone, especially after the contract dispute of last year.

Friday, the ISO announced the hiring of a new Vice President and General Manager.  A few months ago, the orchestra named a new CEO.

Jessica Di Santo, the Director of Communications for the orchestra, told me 2012 was “one of the most challenging years” in ISO history.  Now, she believes the orchestra has “a good foundation” for the future.

Part of that future relies on summer performances.  Symphony on the Prairie has been around for years.  But, the orchestra also presents concerts in Danville, Lebanon and several city parks.

“Symphonies are portable art forms,” Di Santo said.  ”Unlike an art or artifact exhibition, we are so lucky to be able to come out to different communities and venues in order to reach people.”  The summer is “incredibly important to reaching new audiences and giving back to our community for its support.”

Community concerts are scheduled for this coming week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — at Ellenberger Park, Garfield Park and Holliday Park.

If you’ve never seen the symphony in concert, go to one of these shows.  You’ll admire the talent you see on the stage.

And, these shows are free!

Violence in Indy: Beyond More Police

July 9th, 2013 at 9:44 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog
red light 3Private citizens and politicians share at least one sentiment this summer.  Frustration.
It’s driven by day after day of stories about violence.  Someone shot.  Someone killed. 
Putting more police on patrol is one way to fight back — or at least feel like we are.  But, back in May, Mayor Ballard told me: more officers can’t solve everything.  When it comes to crimes of passion, he said, “there’s almost nothing you can do there.”
And that feeds the feelings of frustration.  What else can we do?
Because of that question, I heard something in a panel discussion that made me think of us.  The panel, former members of the George W. Bush administration, came together to talk about the future of the Republican Party.  But, I couldn’t help thinking that some of their thoughts could be applicable to the future of Indianapolis. 
Near the end of the session, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao talked about “a widening gap between people who earn a lot of money and people who don’t.”  She went on to blame that on ”a skills gap.  More and more, we are a knowledge-based economy.  And,” she said, “employers are paying higher wages to those workers that possess more knowledge.”
Former speechwriter Michael Gerson followed that with: “a significant number of people at the bottom of our system, about a third of workers now, which is a scary notion, lack the education, the skills, the family structure and background … these are the three major factors that determine social mobility — to compete in an increasingly meritocratic economic system.” 
Gerson admitted that might be seen as “a natural outcome” of capitalism.  But, ”in a situation where you can’t move from the bottom to the top, inequality is a caste system.  It’s essentially condemning a whole group of people, generation after generation, to not have the ability to compete in a free market.”  And, he said you can’t get social mobility without a dynamic economy. 
Former Bush adviser Karl Rove condensed the topic into one simple sentence.  “The main driver of this is family and education,” he said. 
I hear people around here saying similar things, now.  And, if those are the roots of this summer’s violence, how much does that complicate the campaign to bring peace to the streets?  

IPS in China: Final Thoughts

July 8th, 2013 at 2:50 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

The the IPS teachers who visited China — Chris Collier, Ann Mennonno and Amy Wackerly — have been back for awhile.  But, the final blog post arrived while I had a few days off.  So, here are the final thoughts on the journey — shared by the Center for Inquiry’s Chris Collier:

china flowersWe returned from our trip to China just past midnight on Tuesday, June 25th. World travelers warned us that it might take several days to revive our energy and to re-set our body clocks. It was Friday night before I was able to sleep and wake in our local time zone. Amy is not a nap-taker but has found they are needed for survival.

As this was the first-ever international elementary education conference, which has taken place in Beijing, we have a reflection form to provide to the conference organizers this next week. One of the reflection prompts asks us to reflect upon the similarities and differences in the Chinese schools and our own school and how we might apply the knowledge and insights gained from the conference to our school now that we are back home.

As we reflect upon the differences in education in China and our Center for Inquiry schools, we know that they wish to learn strategies that will increase students’ engagement and desire in their own learning and to give students a more active role in critically thinking about and connecting to the learning.

We discussed the physical activity that is so prevalent at the schools we visited and how we might incorporate healthier habits in our students, not just through the subject area of Physical Education, but as a whole school community and on a daily basis. Amy and Ann plan to share their cultural experience with their students and colleagues.

International travel and spending time in a place where we were the minority, didn’t speak the language, and the cultural practices were unfamiliar led us to practice the IB Learner Profile attributes of risk-taking, open-mindedness, inquiry, and reflective practice.

We also ask ourselves, “What’s next in our new global partnership?” We plan to continue growing our relationship with the main campus of the Experimental School in Chengdu. Technology will allow students to connect through face time. The English teachers in the Chengdu school expressed a desire to continue working with Amy and Ann as they try out student-centered strategies in their learning environment and learn to use the materials that Nasco supplied to their “American classroom.” 

china callig classThe teachers and administrators in our Beijing matched school as well as the Chengdu school hope to have the opportunity to come to Indianapolis and see first hand inquiry in action across grade levels and subject areas. The first visit may occur as early as the October.

The “president” of the school will be in Ohio this September and we are working on plans to get him to our school for a day or two during his visit.

In turn, we would love to provide an opportunity for our students, parents, and teachers to visit Chengdu, participate in Mandarin language lessons and experience the culture of this wonderful city. Of course, a visit with the great pandas is a must!

We begin our school year in less than a month. I am busy working on doctoral assignments, hiring additional staff, and preparing for the new school year.

Amy has been uploading our photos to share in Shutterfly and spending time with her daughters around Indy and back at the softball diamonds.

Ann is spending quality time with her 5 children and her granddaughter before she heads out for a trip to the Honduras for another HETO mission in July.

We are so thankful for the learning experience provided to us through this conference

IPS in China: Journey Nears an End

June 24th, 2013 at 3:47 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

We’ve had the good fortune of using this space to hear from an IPS team in China.  Chris Collier, head of Center for Inquiry Schools, Ann Mennonno, the new IPS Teacher of the Year, and colleague Amy Wackerly, also a teacher, are concluding their trip.  They visited Beijing and Chengdu.  Teaching and learning.  Here is the latest post from Amy Wackerly.

china callig classWe have participated in the Chengdu conference for the past two days.  Ann and I both taught our science lessons and we all presented sessions in the lecture hall. 

One thing Ann and I both noticed was that the students’ English was not as strong as the students’ English in Beijing.  So we kept translators with us. 

The students were highly engaged in both lessons.  I think the participants felt overall that we move at a slower pace than they do here.  Their classes are all departmentalized (one teacher for each subject), thus their lessons being are only 35 or 40 minutes each and very teacher-directed. 

Another difference they brought up is class size.  In China there are often 38-50 students in a classroom, so having students sit at tables and work in cooperative groups does not occur in the schools we observed.  The teachers also felt like we take the time to get to know our students more.  Our educational process is more of a collaborative effort between the students and teachers vs. the teacher telling the students what they must learn. 

Scene from The Hot Pot Restaurant, Chengdu

Scene from The Hot Pot Restaurant, Chengdu

Saturday evening after the conference we had dinner at THE hot pot restaurant in Chengdu. We were guests of President (principal) Yu and some of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the other campuses.  It was a dining experience to be remembered.  It is most like The Melting Pot experience when it came to cooking the meat (unfortunately there was no cheese or chocolate fondue!). 

There were two cooking pots.  One was very spicy and the other one was mild.  All kinds of meat and vegetables were put into the pots.  We had the basics like chicken, beef and pork.  We also had different organs (I don’t know from which animals) like kidneys, intestines, liver and heart and tongue. We also had squid and sheep.  As with many of our meals there was lots of toasting and appreciating our hosts and visa versa.

Sunday was the last day of our work here in China. We started by watching a third grade math class from their master teacher.  The teacher told the students to focus on the lesson with all of their eyes, ears and hearts.  The students were working to establish the relationship between the sides of a triangle.  We were asked to notice similarities and differences between this lesson and the lessons we had modeled. 

Some of the similarities we noticed were: establishing classroom expectations, the teacher using a document camera, students working in a group and students demonstrating the answer to a question for the whole class and using real world examples.  Some differences we noticed were that most of the dialogue was student to teacher and not student to student. 

We also saw that there were very little hands-on activities that the students did.  They constructed one paper triangle at the table with a group of 6, but not all students had the opportunity to do the hands-on part.  When students responded to the teacher, of the 10+ responses only one of them was from a girl. 

Chris and Professor Ling (from Wisconsin) were then asked to speak to the lesson. Ann and Chris both gave a 2nd presentation about our school.

Scene from signing of partnership agreement

Scene from signing of partnership agreement

Next, Chris and President Yu signed a partnership agreement to continue working together and learning from each other. 

The conference closed with comments by Lin Yang, Director of Chengdu’s Basic Education Research Institute.  She summarized her noticings of the last two days.  Ultimately she felt both countries had strengths in their educational systems and we should learn from each other.  Some differences she noted were:

1) There is less time for social work and getting to know students in Chinese classrooms.

2) In China there are some extra curricular activities, but the main focus is to study.

3) In America children have a lot of time to play.  In China they study much of the time.

4) In America the students learn for themselves, while in China, the students are learning for their parents and teachers.

5) In America, there is more knowledge of effective teaching methods. China’s teachers are content specialists.

When we head back to the US we have a lot of reflecting to do about our experiences!

After our conference we were able to go to the Jinsha Site Museum.  This is an archeological site that was accidentally discovered in 2001. The many, jade, bronze and other artifacts date back over 3,000 years!  I really love the symbol that is called Sun Bird.  They discovered it in this dig and that they now use as a symbol for Chengdu culture. Tomorrow is our last day in China and we will be seeing the Dujiangyan Irrigation System.





IPS in China: Chengdu Two

June 23rd, 2013 at 5:44 pm by under Eric Halvorson's Blog

China the teamThe IPS team in China has been very busy.  But, Chris Collier says she, Amy Wackerly and Ann Mennonno love what they’re doing.  Here is the China Blog for June 21, 2013

From Chris:

We were immediately impressed with Chengdu when we arrived on June 19th and have quickly fallen in love with the city. A quick comparison would be Beijing to New York and Chengdu to Indianapolis…less traffic, lots of beautiful gardens and greenery, and a relaxed pace of life.

After getting settled at our university hotel, we attended a 6th grade graduation ceremony on the West campus of Chengdu. We will be working and teaching at the main campus of the Experimental Primary School Affiliated with Sichuan University (EPASU).  There is also an East campus. Each campus has over a thousand students in grades 1-6.

We were quite inspired by the beauty of the 6th grade ceremony honoring China Graduateand celebrating the two hundred students. The ceremony was outdoors in the courtyard, full camera crews were present, the students wore graduation gowns and caps, and their parents walked them up the aisle to receive their certificate. Later all staff walked the carpeted aisle including the school cooks.

The ceremony, truly about celebrating all that the students had learned and their continued journey, included tributes by teachers, students, and parents. One parent comment expressed excitement toward the next step and the preparedness of their child. Another parent said the school was like another mother in their care for the child. The 6th graders’ wishes, written when they entered grade 1, were displayed on boards.

From Amy:

On June 21st, we began our work at the main campus of EPASU, preparing the classroom and meeting the students.  We had sent photos and given a visual tour of Ann’s classroom to the schools as were preparing for the visit. We were very excited to see their creation of our classroom.  Tables had been provided for student seating in collaborative groups. A group meeting place was readied library books, carpets and comfortable seating.  The walls were covered with student work, learning charts (in this case English words for things like the weather, family member names and foods).  They also had a display in the room chronicling how the room was put together.  This included before shots of the room, pictures of them video chatting with us, students putting together the student-made posters for the walls and teachers helping move tables and furniture around the room.  Once again, NASCO had supplied the room with the science materials needed for our demonstration lessons.

Then came the time to meet the students.  Like the students in Beijing, both the third grade and fifth grade students were very excited to meet us.  We answered any questions they had and then talked about the lessons we would be doing with them the next day.  Their prior knowledge and English were probably not as strong as the first group of students we had, so we are working on additional ways to help the students as we begin the lessons.

After meeting the students we enjoyed lunch on campus and then headed to the ancient city of Ludai.  This city, over 400 years old, is on the eastern side of Chengdu and was our shopping stop before we visited the East campus of the elementary school.  This city had small shops that lined the stone, brick and rock streets.  It also had two small (maybe 18 inches wide x 1 foot deep) waterways that went down both sides of the street.  You had to step over the waterway or wait for a small bridge if you wanted to go into the shops. 

Some of our favorite beautiful sites have been on the school campuses.  We have loved all of the small ponds, beautiful gardens and water features we have seen.  This campus was no exception.  We also were able to participate in two different classes in what they call their function rooms.  The first class was a traditional calligraphy class. 

Ann Mennonno and Chris Collier with students

Ann Mennonno and Chris Collier with students

The students taught us, step-by-step, how to hold the brushes and write Chinese characters.  My teacher was very strict!

We wrote the characters on large pieces of paper we first had to divide into sections.  As we wrote the characters we dipped our brushes into ink that was on our tables.  The students gave us each a gift they had written on special red paper.  It had two characters on it and it stood for “happiness into your home”.  

We then went into the next function room were they did paper rolling.  They rolled slender strips of paper and glued them either onto paper or to each other to make different objects like flowers in pots or pandas for example. Our friend, Nick, who is traveling with us from the U.S and working with the conference, experienced the paper cutting.

After a dinner we all walked down the street to learn how to play MahJong at a teahouse.  The assistant principal (known here as “vice president”) traveling with us was very excited about us wanting to learn how to play this game.  It is a favorite game here and we noticed many people playing it in the different areas we’ve traveled.  We learned the basics of the game, although I am still confused about how you deal the playing pieces.  What we thought was really amazing was that there was an actual MahJong table that we played on that would automatically mix up the playing tiles (similar to dominoes except with circle and rod designs) underneath the table and then bring them up from below all stacked and ready to go.

In our next blog we look forward to sharing our teaching and conference experience in Chengdu.