After More than 50 Years as MSD Wayne Board Member, Phyllis Lewis to Step Down

It began with one act of service, and blossomed into a dedication to the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township that has lasted more than 50 years.

Phyllis Lewis, the longest serving school board member in the state of Indiana, has decided not to seek reelection in November. She will have served 52 ½ years when her term concludes at the end of December.

“My decision not to be a candidate for the MSD of Wayne Township School Board is not an ending, but really a beginning,” says Mrs. Lewis. “There are others who believe in public education, who want to and can serve our community as school board members.”

Mrs. Lewis, whose background is in nursing, was first drawn to serve schools in Wayne Township in the 1960s, when she helped administer the tuberculosis tests that were required for some employees. She became a room mother at Westlake Elementary, and president of its PTO. She joined a committee that helped develop the district’s kindergarten program in 1968. The committee visited other districts’ kindergarten programs, selected materials, and helped develop schedules. The first kindergarten classes in Wayne opened in the fall of that year.

When she decided to run for school board, she found that a citizens’ committee chose not to back her, or any of the other women who were running.

“Not that I thought I was the best candidate, but there were three to be selected, and then they called and they said they didn’t think I was trustworthy enough to do the things that needed to be done. And I thought, ‘Really?’”

Mrs. Lewis sought counsel from her minister, who urged her to run anyway. She did, together with two other women, Jean Dover and Jessie Peach. They campaigned together under the slogan “Mothers for Better Schools.”

Mrs. Lewis won. It was something to which she would become accustomed. She was reelected for the 12th time in 2016. No other school board member in Indiana has served as long.

“I am honored to have served under her and have been inspired by her commitment to our community and our district,” said MSD Wayne Superintendent Jeff Butts.

The district Mrs. Lewis serves has undergone tremendous changes during her tenure. In 1968, Wayne Township was primarily white, with a robust manufacturing climate. As the years passed, manufacturing jobs slipped away, and the value of property in the district declined dramatically. Changes in the formula for funding of public schools added to MSD Wayne’s financial challenges.

At the same time, the school system has continued to grow, with more than 16,000 students currently enrolled. Wayne Township has also become much more diverse, with roughly equal numbers of African American, Latino, and white students. Some 70 different native languages are spoken by the district’s families.

Mrs. Lewis says the openness to diversity felt in Wayne today has roots that date back to the time when Indianapolis schools underwent court-ordered desegregation. It is a time she remembers well. MSD Wayne, she says, always strove to be welcoming, noting that the district worked with the school systems in Lawrence and Warren Townships to create a plan for inclusiveness: “We wanted to be receptive.”

Mrs. Lewis has served during the tenure of all five of MSD Wayne’s superintendents: Dr. Harmon Baldwin, Dr. Sidney Spencer, Dr. Edward Bowes, Dr. Terry Thompson, and Dr. Butts. She credits each superintendent with having developed important programs that helped the district grow. Dr. Baldwin, she says, “laid the foundation of who we are currently.” Dr. Bowes implemented the district’s first strategic plan. Dr. Spencer initiated the “School to School” program, which included partnerships with schools in Kuwait and Egypt. Dr. Thompson brought the volunteer mentoring program HOSTS (Help One Student To Succeed) to the district, along with overseeing the development of Ben Davis University High School, MSD Wayne’s very successful early college high school.

Mrs. Lewis says Dr. Butts, who has served as superintendent since 2011, displays great honesty, inclusiveness and innovation. She said she appreciates his tremendous work ethic and “the respect he has for who we are as a community.”

Organizations throughout the state have recognized Mrs. Lewis for her dedicated service. She served as president of the Indiana School Boards Association, and was named School Board Member of the Year. Her numerous awards include the Sagamore of the Wabash, one of Indiana’s highest honors.

Asked what she would name as her greatest accomplishments on the school board, Mrs. Lewis points to successes achieved by the school system as a whole, which has been enthusiastically supported by the community at large. She says she is proud of the fact that a tremendous staff provides strong public education for students from preschool through adult education. She is proud of many other things, including “our robust educational offerings, our graduation rate, all the diplomas that I signed (more than 40,000), and the graduation ceremonies in which I participated.”

Mrs. Lewis is grateful for her sons Alan and Jonathan for “being at my side and supporting me.” She also expressed gratitude for her parents, who she says taught her the importance of serving others. She is thankful for the support she has received over the years from friends, staff, and the community. And she is grateful for those with whom she has served on the school board: “While we didn’t always agree on how, what and when, we all knew why. We believed in public education and thought of children first.”

Brandon Bowman, current president of the MSD Wayne Board of Education, says Mrs. Lewis has been a “community treasure” in Wayne Township.

“Her commitment to our students, staff, and community has been unmatched for a period spanning six decades, and her legacy will carry on eternally,” Mr. Bowman says. “It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve and share time with her on this board.”

Look for Mrs. Lewis to continue to be involved in the community. She wants to gather and record more information about the history of the school system in Wayne Township. She also wants to continue her adjunct faculty role at IUPUI and to continue volunteering for the Indiana University Alumni Association.

And she will still hear from Superintendent Butts: “I plan to continue to seek her counsel and engage her in the critical work we are doing for children in Wayne.”

The Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township provides multiple pathways to success for more than 16,000 students, preschool through high school. Located on the west side of Indianapolis, MSD Wayne works in partnership with the Wayne Township community to help every learner achieve excellence. To learn more about MSD Wayne, visit, or follow us on Facebook at and Twitter @WayneTwpSchools and @WayneTwpSuper.