Several months after Shortridge High School Principal Shane O’Day announced plans to leave, Indianapolis Public Schools is still on the hunt for a replacement. Now, amid pushback from some parents and teachers over the process and candidates, the district faces the possibility of ending the year without a permanent leader — and some fear for the school’s stability.
Tensions over the search for a new principal have been running high. When a group of finalists were chosen for interviews with some parents, students, and staffers, the names soon began to circulate. Frustration over the options spread on social media. A letter to human resources from staff at the school urged the selection of a temporary principal. And interim superintendent Aleesia Johnson shared a public letter aimed at calming anxiety.
Founded in 2012 in a building on the west side, the International Baccalaureate high school allows students to earn college credits in high school and has a global focus. The school is racially and socioeconomically diverse. But it’s popular among middle-class parents with lots of school choices. That makes Shortridge’s position somewhat precarious because if families don’t feel confident in the stability of the school, they might leave the district.
Uncertainty over the next principal is the school’s latest challenge. At a time when the district is overhauling its high schools in a bid to improve their results, Shortridge has one of the most consistent track records of success on measures such as graduation rates and state letter grades. As one of four campuses that survived high school closures and consolidation, the school absorbed the district’s performing arts magnet and its enrollment swelled to 1,045 this year.
Just where the search stands — and what will happen next — is unclear.
At least one of the finalists was told he is no longer under consideration for the position. Charlie Schlegel, an Indianapolis education consultant and former leader of a local charter network, says he was told by the district he is no longer a candidate.
The district declined to answer any questions related to the search and what is next in the process, instead referring Chalkbeat to a public letter from interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson.
The district’s goal, Johnson wrote the letter published online about the search, is to recommend the next principal before the end of the year. “However, I will also assure you that we will not sacrifice finding a quality leader in order to meet this timeframe and will create an alternative plan if needed.”
“With input from the school community, interview panels have formed, engaged candidates, and provided input into the decision-making process,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “As with every school leadership vacancy that arises in our district, I am deeply committed to selecting a leader at Shortridge whose values are aligned to those of our district and who will best position SHS for success.”
An online post shared by the IPS Community Coalition, a group that’s critical of the district administration, raised concerns about candidates’ ties to charter schools and whether the apparent finalists had sufficient experience to lead an International Baccalaureate high schools.
“What the district has done with this hiring process is anything but about community decision making and autonomy,” said Jeb Bardon, a parent at Shortridge, who added that the district administration had not done enough to search for candidates internationally as parents had asked. “We’re just trying to hold on to our faculty right now,” he said.
It is not just parents who are frustrated. Earlier this month, staff at Shortridge sent a letter to human resources. The letter, which was signed “Shortridge High School Staff,” raised concerns about the process and proposed the district name an interim principal for next year.
“We are concerned that the principal hiring process has presented challenges, including equity and transparency, and that the process will lead to the selection of a leader whose appointment does not reflect the values, mission, and ethics of the IPS community nor of the Shortridge community,” read the letter, which was shared with Chalkbeat by someone with knowledge of the search process who was not authorized to comment.
O’Day told the Shortridge student paper in December 2018 that he was leaving the school because it had outgrown his strength as a founder, and he planned to travel with his wife.