‘Excellence for all’: Aleesia Johnson explains why she wants to become IPS’ next superintendent

Aleesia Johnson announced plans to seek the position of permanent superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools Wednesday, just hours after the district began accepting applications for a new chief.

Johnson, who previously served as deputy under former Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, has been the district’s interim leader for more than three months. She shared why she is applying for the position permanently in a letter posted on Twitter Wednesday.

“Based on my review of the summary of feedback provided from the community along with my experience to date, I believe that I possess the qualities necessary to lead our district permanently and intend to apply for this important position,” Johnson wrote in a statement touching on her experience in education and as a leader in Indianapolis Public Schools, which she joined in 2015.

A consistent theme in Johnson’s statement was the need to improve achievement for all students. Though she didn’t specifically mention test results, Indianapolis Public Schools has a large and growing gap in passing rates on state tests between black and Hispanic students and their white peers that has inspired a chorus of criticism in recent months.

“There are many complex challenges that lie ahead for our district. We must improve the academic achievement of our students and ensure that when they leave us we have kept our commitment to them to be able to live a life of viable choices and expanded opportunity,” she wrote, adding later, “while our schools are delivering excellence for some, we are not yet delivering excellence for all.”

A native of Evansville, Johnson is the first African American woman to lead the district. She is well liked by many community leaders, and supporters of Ferebee’s administration have rallied around Johnson behind the scenes for weeks.

But her selection would also be controversial because she is closely associated with the district’s strategy of handing management of schools to outsider partners, including charter networks.

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. When the board approved a job description for the position last week, however, it had minimal requirements.

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.

Read the full letter below and our profile of Johnson.