IPS board looks to conclude superintendent search in May

The Indianapolis Public Schools board expects to name a new superintendent in May, but left open the possibility that the search process, which gets underway in February, could extend beyond that.

Board members Thursday voted to approve the details and timeline of the selection process. The plan, which was posted on the school board website, gives community members at least five chances to weigh in on what they want in a schools superintendent.

Interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson will lead the district during the search.

The board itself will oversee the superintendent search process. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Education will help design and administer the search to replace former superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who was tapped to lead the Washington, D.C., school district.

Six board members voted Thursday to approve the process outlined. Board member Diane Arnold was not present.

The timeline for naming a new district leader is slower than the ambitious one tentatively outlined by the school board president, Michael O’Connor, earlier this month. He had hoped to name a new superintendent around March.

The idea to fast-track the search drew some backlash from critics of Ferebee’s administration. During public comment at the board meeting Thursday, a critic raised concerns that a quick search would lead to less public involvement.

“Some on the board seem to be in a hurry to appoint the current interim superintendent with a minimum of public input,” said Jim Scheurich, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Johnson, a former deputy superintendent for academics, is well-liked by many city leaders, but her selection would be controversial because she is strongly associated with the district’s growing collaboration with charter schools. Ferebee drew national attention from charter school advocates for his work creating innovation schools, which are run by outside operators but overseen by the district.

Opposition to the approach, however, helped fuel a backlash to Ferebee’s administration. Two incumbent board members who had supported Ferebee’s efforts were defeated by challengers who have called for a slowdown in the growth of innovation schools.

In other cities, the duration of recent superintendent searches has varied widely. New York City was able to fill its top post in a few months, but in the school district that includes Memphis, an eight to 18-month search is planned.

Over the four-month timeline outlined in O’Connor’s memo, the board will hold several public meetings. The search will begin with three public input sessions, likely in February, held at different locations. Two will be held in the evening and a third will be held during the day. The board will also accept feedback at two regular February meetings.

An external consultant will publicize and facilitate the planned community meetings about the superintendent search. A report summarizing that feedback will be presented to the board.

The application window for superintendent candidates is expected to open in late March and close in April.