During the first-ever state of the district address Wednesday, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson gave an inspirational and broad overview of the state’s largest school corporation.
Johnson says the city’s future success is tied to the achievement of its students. During the 40-minute address at Shortridge High School Johnson spoke of change, goals and sketched out the challenges ahead.
She also announced a series of community meetings next month for the public to give feedback on the district.
In recent years IPS upended what a public school district looks like in Indiana. It’s partnerships with charter schools and independent school managers have drawn controversy yet expanded the district reach.
After years of enrollment decline, the district is adding more students, expected to be more than 32,000 students this year. Johnson says of those, 44 percent are black and 29 percent are Latino.
“Indianapolis Public Schools will never stop working together to improve our community and our neighborhoods,” she said. “We will always be a part of the fabric of Indianapolis, and we will continue to produce the leaders our city needs to continue to grow and prosper.”
Last fall, voters overwhelmingly approved a $272 million tax increase for schools through two referendums. Yet as the district struggles to balance its operations with state funding, it's preparing a process to evaluate how it could close schools in the coming years.
“What I know for sure is that the state of our district gets stronger when we work together,” Johnson said. “It took some tough decisions and courageous leadership to get to where we are this evening and, undoubtedly, tough decisions lie ahead.”
Johnson used the address to explain six areas she and the elected board of commissioners are focused on for the next few years, including racial equity.
Johnson, the first African American woman to head IPS, said the persistent achievement gap between children of color and their white classmates can not continue.
“We can neither ignore nor be intimidated by the stark truths of the society in which we live,” she said.
Johnson noted a "bright spot" of the overall graduation rate -- 82 percent for the each of the last two years. The state average is 88 percent.
Other goals she and the school board are targeting include high-quality instruction, financial sustainability and transparency, and community engagement.
Johnson also pushed back against unnamed critics and negative views about the urban district.
“We will never consent to being viewed as a second-class school district. We will never consent to our students being defined as less than the brilliant, resilient, and capable young people that they are. We are inferior to no one,” she said.
Johnson also used the platform to praise individual staff members, principals, and students. Community and business partners and local and state lawmakers were also acknowledged throughout the address.
Johnson became the permanent superintendent in June after five months as the interim. She replaced Lewis Ferebee who left for Washington, D.C. schools at the end of last year.