The Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Board of School Commissioners recently held its first of three scheduled community meetings, which serve to gather public feedback as the district looks to pick its next superintendent, Chalkbeat reports. Lewis Ferebee, the former, five-year IPS superintendent, recently left the district to lead District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, and the board is expected to make its next pick in May.
So far, Chalkbeat notes, not everyone agrees on what they want to see in the next leader of IPS, especially as they remain divided in their views of Ferebee's reform efforts — which included closing under-enrolled high schools, giving more power to principals and creating externally-run innovation schools. A major debate the district has to resolve: Should the next superintendent be aligned with Ferebee's efforts, or should they pioneer a new path for the district?
- There is also some disagreement on whether the next leader must have a superintendent’s license — which state law doesn't require — and experience leading a school district. Ferebee had a license but did not have prior superintendent experience, and interim leader Aleesia Johnson had experience running the district as Ferebee's deputy superintendent but does not hold a related license.
One comment members of the public made during the first community discussion was that they wanted someone to stick around longer than Ferebee did and to be in it for “the long haul," Chalkbeat reports. However, according to a report released last year by the Broad Center — a nonprofit that aims to prepare leaders to be superintendents — the average tenure of one of these leaders is about six years. This figure falls in line closely with a 2006 study by The School Superintendents Association (AASA) that indicated the mean tenure for a school superintendent is five to six years.
This average turnover means districts likely need to plan for leadership changes. Having an associate or deputy superintendent in line for the role, at least in an interim capacity, can helps make these transitions easier. These roles can also help keep the district on an even keel while permanent leadership decisions are made, especially if they have had a strong role in making leadership decisions under the previous administration. And, in an effort to help retain superintendents, having someone to help manage the oftentimes heavy workload could be beneficial.
However, changes in leadership often open the doors for discussion and reevaluation of current or previous policies. In some districts, community members trust the school board to make the leadership decisions without much public input. In others — especially those where the previous administration has made bold or controversial decisions —members of the community may want to take the opportunity to let their voices be heard before new leadership arrives. If these opinions sway in the direction of the previous administration, school leaders in the pipeline who support current structure may stand a better chance of advancement. If those ideas prove unpopular, outside leadership may be sought to change things up.
If school boards decide to include community input in the process, it is important for this process to be as transparent as possible. Community meetings or forums need to be widely and publicly announced, and using online surveys or other methods of gathering input are often good ideas to capture feedback from a greater number of stakeholders. The results of these surveys can also be enlightening in providing direction as school board members go through the expensive process of selecting new leadership, and they can pinpoint areas in which a community's understanding of the state of the school district may be lacking.