June 21, 2019

Aleesia Johnson Named As Next Indianapolis Superintendent

Aleeisa Johnson speaks during a press conference Friday. June 21, 2019 at the IPS Central Office.  - Emily Cox/WFYI News

Aleeisa Johnson speaks during a press conference Friday. June 21, 2019 at the IPS Central Office.

Emily Cox/WFYI News

Aleesia Johnson was named the pick for permanent superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools this morning by the IPS Board of Commissioners.

Johnson, who is the interim leader for the past six months, would be the first African American woman superintendent in the district's 166th-year history.

The IPS Board still has to approve the terms and a contract for Johnson to become superintendent. That vote is expected to happen in late July. 

The announcement ends a national search which began after former district leader Lewis Ferebee left to become chief of Washington, D.C. Schools.

"I am thrilled, honored and humbled to be the next superintendent," Johnson said after the announcement at IPS headquarters. "I've grown to have such deep love for the district over the past four years. More important in that -- the level of respect, admiration and gratitude I feel for the members of our team. We have some of the hardest working people you will ever find in Indianapolis."

Johnson was one of three finalists interviewed in public Tuesday. IPS Board President Michael O'Connor would not say how many of the board members supported Johnson or favored another candidate. 

The other finalists were Devon Horton, a top leader at Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, and Larry Young, Jr., an assistant superintendent at Pike Township Schools in Indianapolis.

O'Connor says one reason Johnson was picked is the board's familiarity with her. 

"She has been able to articulate a direction and a style and area of focus that has resonated with the board," he says. 

O'Connor says while not all the board may fully back the direction of Johnson, or former Superintendent Ferebee, he says they all agree on doing the "best thing for students." 

"The direction of Aleesia Johnson is less important as bringing the school board to unanimity around addressing the biggest challenges that we have to face," he says.

Johnson has worked at IPS for four years, prior to that she led a charter school. Three of her children attend IPS schools.

She does not expect to make dramatic changes soon.

"We are going to continue to be laser-light focused on student outcomes, and how we get to better student outcomes," she says. "We are going to continue to be laser-light focused on having great schools in every neighborhood, and then making sure from a finance and operations standpoint, we are sustaining ourselves longterm for the district."

Johnson joined IPS four years ago, after previously leading charter school KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory. At IPS, she oversaw the growing partnerships of so-called innovation schools -- schools operated by non-profit boards or charter school organizers. Johnson was Ferebee’s deputy superintendent for 10 months before being taped by the IPS Board to be interim superintendent.

Johnson has six years of teaching experience in the classrom. Her first job was in Paterson Public Schools in Paterson, NJ where she was part of Teach For America. After that, she moved to Indianapolis and spent four years as a teacher with KIPP.

In her letter of interest to IPS Board of School Commissioners, Johnson says the district’s achievement gap between minority and white students, and low-income and affluent students must be “deeply examined” and while doing so, “confront the reality that there are no silver bullets.”

“As a black woman who is raising black children, it is crushing to know and have real evidence of the ways in which our society — including our educational system — falls short in cultivating the academic growth of black students,” she writes.

Johnson says her in her previous IPS roles she’s designed the innovation school model to better include community engagement, and led the academic initiatives in redesigning the districts high school offerings.

What's Next

Next week, the basic financial terms of Johnson's contract will be released and a notice of a public hearing for the employment contract. The hearing must be at least ten days after the notice, so it will likely occur in mid-July, O'Connor says.

A vote on the contract can happen seven days after the hearing.

Johnson does not have a superintendent's license but she is working towards it. She's passed the district's leadership assessment and will begin coursework for the license. 

The IPS Board is expected to request a temporary license for Johnson from the state. 

The IPS Board did not make a license a requirement to apply. The job description says the chosen candidate must have the ability to pass an Indiana district administration licensure exam within three months and be able to get a superintendent license or a temporary superintendent license.

Johnson earned a masters of social work from the University of Michigan, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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