In bid to attract superintendent candidates, IPS board lists few job requirements

The Indianapolis Public Schools board is casting a wide net in its search for the next superintendent, according to a job description approved Monday.

In a meeting that lasted more than two hours, the board went into granular detail of what it’s looking for in its next leader. But the most significant changes to the job posting, which was approved unanimously, were designed to increase the pool of potential candidates.

To that end, the board agreed to keep the names of the initial applicants private and it removed from the draft posting a requirement that candidates have a set number of years of experience in education. But board members emphasized that they are still seeking a candidate who has been successful in improving student achievement in an urban environment, has varied experience in education, and has demonstrated a commitment to equity.

The board has pledged a transparent search process, but several members raised concerns that releasing the names of all qualified candidates would discourage those who do not want their interest to be public. The district will instead only publicize the names of finalists for the post, who will also participate in public interviews.

“I think we will be causing ourselves to lose some good candidates, and I don’t think that’s what we intended nor what the public intended for us to do,” said board member Venita Moore, who supports the decision to keep the names private.

Some of her colleagues, including board president Michael O’Connor, argued that the board should release the names to increase transparency and filter for candidates who are committed to working in Indianapolis. But ultimately, board members agreed only to release the number of people who apply and the names of finalists.

“While I think full transparency was the right way to go, there is an argument to be made that we’re narrowing the field unnecessarily in doing so,” O’Connor said.

The board also lowered the threshold for the minimum qualifications for the job. The draft posting required candidates have three years of experience each in teaching, building administration, and district leadership. Board member Susan Collins suggested that the board “not be so strict about the number of years” to allow for candidates who did not precisely fit that criteria.

Though the updated version removed requirements for experience in education, the post still seeks “varied experience” in education, building administration, and district leadership.

Indianapolis Public Schools has been led by interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson since January, when the district’s former chief Lewis Ferebee left to become schools chancellor in  Washington, D.C. Johnson is considered a likely contender to succeed Ferebee in a more permanent capacity. She has previously declined to say whether she plans to apply for the job. Her appointment would be controversial because critics opposed Ferebee’s partnerships with charter schools, and see Johnson  as something of a protege of the former superintendent.

Critics of Johnson have placed special focus on whether she is qualified for the post, highlighting that she does not have a superintendent’s license. Johnson told Chalkbeat in February that it is up to the board to decide what qualifications the next superintendent needs, but she pointed out that she has 16 years of experience in education and master’s degrees in social work and teaching.

In the job posting the board approved, eligibility requirements are minimal. Candidates must have the ability to pass an Indiana district administration licensure exam within three months. And they must be able to obtain a superintendent license or a temporary superintendent license, which requires applicants to have a master’s degree or higher.

The district also released a report synthesizing feedback from 346 people collected at community input sessions and school board meetings, and in written form.

The report focuses on the strengths and weaknesses community members see in the district and the qualifications they would like to see in the next superintendent, including experience in urban education, commitment to community engagement, and an open leadership style.

The district will accept applications from Wednesday through May 17, slightly extending the timeline it announced in January.