Aleesia Johnson

New Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson took questions at a press conference June 21 announcing the board's decision to make her the next leader of the state's largest school district. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

Indianapolis Public Schools’ next superintendent will be Aleesia Johnson, who has been the district’s interim superintendent since December 2018. The school board made the announcement June 21. IPS, the state’s largest school district, began its search for a new superintendent after former leader Lewis Ferebee left for the same position with D.C. Public Schools.

“I am thrilled, honored, humbled to be the next superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools,” Johnson said. “I’ve grown to have such deep love for this district over the last four years.”

Johnson began working for the district in 2015 as the innovation officer.

The board made its decision after what President Michael O’Connor called an “open process.” The board had three public meetings starting in February, posted the job description online and let the public submit questions that were part of an open interview for the three finalists June 18.

“Ms. Johnson was selected because the board believed her experience, her integrity and her leadership made her the best candidate to lead this district,” O’Connor said, adding that Johnson’s vision for the district best aligned with the board’s.

Johnson is the 33rd superintendent of IPS and the first African American female superintendent in the district’s 166-year history. The other finalists were Devon Horton, chief of schools for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, and Larry Young Jr., assistant superintendent of Elementary Education for Metropolitan School District of Pike Township.

Johnson said her early priorities as superintendent will include the six focus areas — student-centered teaching and learning, school-centered central services, racial equity, sustainable finances, high-performing staff and engagement — she presented to the board and public at the June 18 interview.

Selecting Johnson to lead the district means there likely won’t be much disruption to the charter and Innovation Network School advancements started under Ferebee. Johnson said to not expect “dramatic” changes in the district’s direction under her leadership.

“The hope is that we continue in our innovation work to be responsive to what we’re seeing happening in the district,” she said. “If there are schools [and] communities that say we want to make this transition, then we can support them in doing that. If there are schools that haven’t been performing well and we think a transition to innovation is the right strategy, then we’ll do that.”

About 25 percent of IPS students attend innovation schools, which are managed by outside organizations such as charter networks.

As a first-time superintendent, Johnson doesn’t yet have her superintendent license. She said she’s taken and passed the district leadership assessment that’s needed to be licensed, and she’ll begin coursework “during my tenure.”

Johnson still has to go through a formal review and approval process with the school board. O’Connor said the basic financial terms of Johnson’s contract — which he called “competitive and fair” for a first-time superintendent — will be released next week. There will be a public hearing after that, most likely in mid-July, and he said he expects the board to take a final vote at its regularly scheduled board meeting July 25.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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