Hi, I'm Ranya, the student body president at Shortridge and I got the chance to interview Alessia Johnson the Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools!
Ranya: Where did you grow up and what colleges did you attend?
Superintendent Johnson: I grew up in Evansville, Indiana, which is three hours southwest of Indianapolis. I got my undergraduate degree which is a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology/African American Studies from Agnes Scott College, a small Women’s college right outside of Atlanta. I also received a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Oakland City University.
Ranya: How did you find your way to Indy?
Superintendent Johnson: After two years of teaching in New Jersey, I wanted to get closer to home because my entire family was still in Evans- ville, but I wanted to be in more of a city rather than my hometown, so Indianapolis was the family compromise in 2004.
Ranya: Did you ever dream of being a Superintendent?
Superintendent Johnson: I dreamed about being a principal before but never a superintendent. Being the Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools is truly an honor!
Ranya: Describe a time when you were stereotyped.
Superintendent Johnson: There was a time when I visited a Dollar Gen- eral store when I felt like I was racially profiled/stereotyped. I had gone in to buy a bottle of body wash but the store didn't have the brand that I use. I was carrying a large bag and as I was leaving the store, a worker stopped me and asked to search my bag. I hadn't wandered the store, I only walked to one aisle before deciding to leave.
Ranya: How did it make you feel?
Superintendent Johnson: I felt very offended and called management to let them know about my experience. I would never steal, especially out of a Dollar General store. I was angry and needed my concerns addressed. There was no reason to stop me at all that day. I couldn't help but wonder that the reason the worker stopped me was because I was black.
Ranya: Have you ever faced any issues as being the first black woman superintendent?
Superintendent Johnson: There haven’t been any instances where I feel like someone explicitly discriminated against me because I am a black wom- an in this position. However, there have been and still, are meetings that I attend where I'm either the only woman or the only person of color. There are also questions as the leader of this organization that I'm asked that I don't know that a male leader would be asked. That is why I believe that as women it is important that we stay strong in leadership roles. It’s too easy for folks to dismiss us and not realize the strength that we bring to our roles.
Ranya: What's a typical day like?
Superintendent Johnson: As a superintendent, there is never really a typical day. In a typical week, I try to spend fifty percent of my time inside the organization and the other fifty percent in the community. Today my schedule started with internal check-in meetings, a meeting with our princi- pal supervisors, and a meeting with our communications chief. I served on a panel at the Indiana State of Black Males Conference and met with two com- munity leaders about the work we’re doing in the district. My goal is to try and always be half and half if possible. Working inside includes dealing with matters and affairs we have going on in our district. The community por- tion also includes getting various thoughts and perspectives to keep people informed about what is going on in our IPS.
Ranya: What's your vision for IPS?
Superintendent Johnson: My vision is to accelerate and move very quickly to improve student achievement. We are a school district, so at the end of the day, we are here to make sure that you and every student gets the best education possible so that when you graduate, you are in a posi- tion to make choices because of the knowledge, skills, and confidence you've gained in our schools. It's also important to make sure that when people are talking about IPS that the message, story, and images are all positive. We have incredible students and teachers in our district. No, we’re not perfect but I think there are ways to move IPS to a more positive level. My goal is to broadcast and share the awesome things we have in our district. That’s my ultimate vision.
Ranya: What's your favorite place to vacation?
Superintendent Johnson: So, I went to Cape Town, South Africa, last year and that’s by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Here in the states, it would be Destin Florida. Anywhere with a beach, I’m happy.
Ranya: What are your favorite foods?
Superintendent Johnson: I’m pretty basic. My husband would say if I could eat pizza multiple times a week, I would. I also enjoy good soul food: fried chicken, steak, mac and cheese, green beans, sweet potatoes, and cornbread.
Interviewing Superintendent Johnson and learning about her plans for IPS was very insightful. It was fun getting to know more about
some of the things she likes to do!