Tuesday night, the public in person and via live stream was able to hear from the three finalists for the Indianapolis Public School Superintendent position. The candidates Devon Horton, Aleesia Johnson, and Larry Young were given fifteen uninterrupted minutes to make their case then for forty-five minutes, they answered questions from the board. This was the first time the public was able to hear the stories of both Devon Horton and Larry Young and finally got to hear why Aleesia Johnson feels she is suited to remain in the post. I was there from start to finish real-time tweeting and texting back and forth with fellow blogger Shawnta Barnes, who watched via live stream. In case you missed it here is a recap of last night hearing and my perspectives on how the evening went from all three candidates.
Devon Horton – Of the three finalists, he was the only one outside of Indianapolis. He does have Indy roots as he went to Culver Military Academy. He began his fifteen minutes, talking about his background and how his leadership skills were developed at home when he was younger. He emphasized the importance of his upbringing and how he was shaped by his single-parent mother, who he bought with him that evening. He was prepared. He had done his research on IPS because he was able to name letter grades and knew which schools were failing and which school were not failing. He talked about two approaches that he would like to bring to Indy. He spoke about the popular 5 Essentials that was based out of the University of Chicago and used across the country in high performing schools. He also talked about his theory of organizational change. He called it MIRACLE. He believes that his MIRACLE approach aligns well to the current IPS mission and vision.
During the interview portion, Horton had some high points. IPS Board Member Diane Arnold asked Horton, “Tell me about a time when you had to resolve an issue in the gray area between governance and management.” Horton detailed a time where he had to move a principal who had been there for a long time and had close ties and relationships with members of the board. When the question about innovation and charter partnerships, he stated that he would love to find a way for schools that are not part of the district to become part of the district. In his closing remarks, Horton addressed the concerns shared by many about him using this position as a stepping stone. He said, “I want to be a superintendent.” It was his way of saying that is why he has been applying for jobs all over the country.
Overall, once Horton slowed down in his responses, I believe he presented himself well to the public and the board. I believe he wanted to make it clear that he was an instructional leader. He believes the superintendent should be the instructional leader first and foremost if you are going to move the needle on instruction in the district. I believe of the three candidates he is the most instructionally sound.
Alessia Johnson – She is the overwhelming favorite for the position. I believe she has the majority of the board’s vote, and she has the majority of the business community’s vote, and she also has the majority of the political vote to remain in the position. In her fifteen minutes, she used the personal approach. She talked about herself as a woman of faith. She talked about the best qualities she got from her mother, who was an educator, and her dad, who was an engineer. She painted herself as an educator at heart. She played to her strengths and her institutional knowledge of the district by painting a picture of IPS that she would like to continue leading. She even named dropped when she thanked long term veteran educator Pat Payne for her continuing guidance and mentorship over her time in IPS. She ended her fifteen minutes by displacing a picture of three current IPS students with the heading Class of 2031.
During her interview portion, she showed great poise in answering questions from the board. She was asked about her relationship with the union, and she spoke about how they meet regularly. She also, “It doesn’t do our district any good or our union any good if we are turning over teachers at a high rate.” Board Commissioner Taria Slack asked about how she works with parents. Aleesia expressed how she felt that being the superintendent, she needs to be approachable and accessible. She explained how she works hard in positioning herself that way.
I have always viewed Alessia Johnson as someone approachable. She does well in big crowds, and I have seen her at multiple events stopping to have conversations with people. In what I felt was her strongest answer, she was asked to reflect on her time as superintendent. She made it clear that she is not against switching things up and is ok with ruffling some feathers. I enjoyed when they asked her if she felt whether she was doing a good job in the interim role and that she had the confidence to answer yes. Alessia Johnson closed her remarks by saying that she never aspired to be a superintendent and would be proud to have the job. She asked the board to allow her the opportunity to keep going with the work she has started thus far because she believes in the change that can happen in the district under her leadership. Overall, I felt going in it was her job to lose. I believe she did enough in the eyes of the board to secure the job. They seemed a little more invested when she was talking than the other two candidates. Her biggest hurdle, if appointed, will be winning over some community members.
Larry Young – This is the candidate that I most familiar with because of both our ties to Pike Township. I was shocked and also excited to see his name as one of the finalists for the vacant IPS job. Larry Young began his 15-minute presentation by informing everyone of his experience as an educator. Of the three candidates, he brings the most overall experience and the most leadership experience. He is the current number two in Pike. He worked under long-term Pike Superintendent Nathaniel Jones. He is good friends with current Lawrence Township Superintendent Dr. Shawn Smith. He brings the resume and the experience, but the question is, “Does he bring what it takes to lead IPS?” Just like Devon Horton, Dr. Young came prepared with data about IPS. Similar to Dr. Horton, Dr. Young came prepared with how his vision for leadership and school improvement can improve IPS.
Dr. Young made it a point throughout the night to highlight the great work in Pike and how it can be replicated in IPS. When posed with the question on finance, he reflected on when Nathaniel Jones took over in Pike amid financial uncertainty and how now the district is profitable and in a good place. He used Dr. Shawn Smith and the success that he has had with the graduation rates in Lawrence Township and credited that to what they learned in Pike. Dr. Young wanted to convince the board that those strategies could work in IPS, and he was the Superintendent who could make it happen. During the interview, Dr. Young was asked about how he trained principals to work with parents. Dr. Young said, “First and foremost, listen. Second, apologize.” Slack asked Young about how he was going to change the image of IPS so families will send their children. Dr. Young believes if we want people to be passionate about IPS, then IPS has to speak passionately about IPS. Overall, Dr. Young presented himself strong to the board and the community. He has the presence of someone who understands the pressure of being a superintendent. His experience as a leader and being in the role of an Assistant for many years proved him well. The question surrounding him is, “Can his traditional background prove to work in an untraditional school system?”
The board is looking to name the Superintendent by the end of the month. We will be sure to cover who is selected when the announcement is made.