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One month into school year, IPS still searching for three principals

Alan Petersime

The first month of school has come and gone, and Indianapolis Public Schools is still searching for principals to lead two of its best-performing elementary schools and a struggling school on the North side.

The school board tonight approved hiring Duane Krambeck to be the principal at School 82, an East side school that has earned D’s from the state the past two years because of its students’ poor performance on the ISTEP exam.

That leaves School 90, School 56 and School 43 still without principals. Each building has an interim leader, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. The goal is to have full-time interim principals, but that doesn’t always happen if that person is retired.

Having schools with temporary leaders for more than a month to start the school year is a problem the leader of Stand for Children, an advocacy group that pushes for change in the district, said is a symptom of the challenge the district faces when it comes to principal retention.

“In a perfect world, everybody including Dr. Ferebee would want to see those positions filled already,” said Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children. “There’s a larger issue of retention and attracting top principal talent, and that’s going to be an issue that’s a focus in the medium and long term.”

But Ferebee, who put principals across the district on notice last December when he decided not to renew contracts for 20 administrators because of poor performance, said tonight the district is getting close to having qualified, full-time leaders in all its schools.

The delays, he said, resulted from the district’s new principal selection process. The district changed its approach to picking principals to include input from a wider group of people, including parents.

He said search committees have nearly finished finding leaders for School 43 and for School 90, which lost its principal Mark Pugh earlier this year to another district that offered him more money. The third search is underway.

School 56 lost its principal Lauren Franklin when she accepted a $100,000 Innovation School Fellowship with The Mind Trust. She currently is taking a year off to develop a plan to create a new, innovative school reform plan and will present her proposal to overhaul an IPS school to the school board next year.

But the problem of principal retainment could still to haunt Ferebee even after he fills the three remaining spots. He said last month 14 other administrators are on notice that their contracts might not be renewed this year due to poor performance. Several more principals are nearing retirement age, he said.

Ohlemiller said the tactics Ferebee is using — including giving principals recruitment and performance bonuses to turn around struggling schools — appear to be the right ones to solve the problem.

“What we’ve been really happy to see from Ferebee is a focus on principal leadership and trying to tackle that moving forward,” Ohlemiller said. “The process is a lot more thoughtful and deliberative, not just getting a principal, but trying to get the right principal.”

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