Aleesia Johnson, the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, gave her second state of the district address Wednesday, amidst the pandemic and an uncertain financial and political future.
During the live-stream address, Johnson thanked teachers and staff for their dedication and for keeping school buildings safe after in-person classes resumed. She also praised families and students for persisting to learn and trust the district. Johnson characterized those efforts and the district’s pledge to remove racial barriers as “fighting a hard fight.”
“And that is what we’re going to keep doing today, in the most challenging moment of our lifetimes. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s also what makes me optimistic and excited,” Johnson said. “Because I know what we can do for our kids when we stay focused on what matters.”
Johnson did not mention the November election, where a majority of seats on the IPS school board are on the ballot. Some candidates in the race are challenging incumbents who staunchly support Johnson’s leadership and ongoing reforms.
You can watch Johnson’s full address here. Here’s some of what she covered:
IPS has spent around $27 million on COVID-19 related expenses since March, when school buildings began to close. Most of that was spent on iPads and Chromebooks for 32,000 students and 7,000 mobile wifi hotspots. The district began to phase-in in-person learning earlier this month.
Johnson said mental health resources have been increased and health professionals are available in all buildings. She said the decision to open schools is weighed against keeping neighbors and community safe.
“That’s why we’ve acted decisively to protect health. It’s why we kept schools closed until it was safer to return. And it’s why we’ve given our families a choice between virtual and in-person school,” Johnson said. “Because I won’t ask anyone to make choices for their children that I wouldn’t make for mine.”
Since Johnson became superintendent in July 2019, she’s made racial equity a focus and pushed for discussion on the district’s racist past. She said that includes students reading about race and racism in the classroom and the administration analyzing district data by race to identify where disparities exist.
“That’s our promise to keep. Not through lip service but through deliberate choices. Not through platitudes but through measurable goals -- to make sure that challenging, exciting, coursework exists in every school — rigorous curriculum that challenges all our students to become deeper, more critical thinkers,” Johnson said.
IPS recently announced partnerships to boost student opportunities and education, including an IU Health Fellowship based at Crispus Attucks High School and a $7 million career readiness initiative led by EmployIndy to connect students with training at Ivy Tech Community College and IUPUI.
“We want every IPS high school student to know that, from day one, there is a team of caring adults whose one shared goal is to ensure their success,” Johnson said.