Monday night marked a new era for the Indianapolis Public Schools board as three new commissioners were sworn in, and interim-superintendent Aleesia Johnson sat with the board for the first time.
Commissioners Evan Hawkins, Susan Collins and Taria Slack were sworn onto the seven-person board by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and welcomed by board President Michael O’Connor.
“We have important work in front of us, maintaining the momentum from a successful referendum, selecting a new superintendent and maintaining the work that we’re doing, in our high schools in particular,” O’Connor says.
Two of the new commissioners ––Susan Collins and Taria Slack –– ran campaigns critical of the IPS administration and ousted incumbent first-term board members Mary Ann Sullivan and Dorene Rodriguez Hoops. Sullivan, a former board president, championed the reforms designed by former IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee over the past four years.
Both Collins and Slack received campaign support from I-PACE, the advocacy arm of the Indiana State Teachers Association. During the election cycle, they questioned the district's policies, especially the growth of innovation network schools in the district, even as Slack's children attend an innovation school.
Innovation schools are public IPS schools run by third-party groups, such as non-profit organizations or charter school managers.
Now, it remains to be seen if the new board will work together and carry out the strategies spearheaded by Ferebee and the former board. In Sullivan’s final board meeting last month she warned the new members against attempts to derail initiatives.
“I urge those of you who will continue to serve to protect and nurture this new model of public education,” Sullivan says. “For God’s sake don’t look back because there is only one direction and it is forward.”
Unlike Slack and Collins, new commissioner Evan Hawkins has voiced support for most district policies. He received support form Stand for Children Indiana, the local chapter of a national organization, that has financially supported the administration's policies under Ferebee through lobbying and other efforts.
Monday night’s meeting also marked the beginning of Aleesia Johnson’s tenure as the district’s interim superintendent. Johnson was briefly the deputy superintendent of academics and previously oversaw the innovation schools.
In an interview with WFYI, Johnson said she will not slow the district’s progress because of her temporary position, even with the district facing major decisions in 2019.
Some of those issues include: Requests by several local charter school networks to be absorbed into the district as part of the innovation network; lobbying at the Statehouse to secure more funding from the biennium budget, and figuring out how the former Broad Ripple High School facility will be used or possibly sold.
“We are on a path of progress that I believe in,” Johnson said in the interview. Later she added, “So if there are decisions that need to get made we’re not going to punt on those decisions because of this transitional period.”
The board also voted for Michael O’Connor to continue as board president.
The first school board meeting of the year will be Tuesday, Jan. 29.