How one of the youngest superintendents in Indiana transformed her district

By David McGuire

Superintendents are their district’s instructional leader, financial decision maker, community figure, and in some cases, political leader. The impact they will have is one that will be felt for many years to come. They can change the lives not just of the students in their districts, but of budding educators like myself, who dream to do the same remarkable work. Fortunately, here in Indianapolis we have five black individuals serving in public school districts as superintendents.

In the second installment of this five-part series I want to shine a spotlight on Nikki Woodson, superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township.

When Nikki Woodson was appointed superintendent of Indianapolis’ Washington Township five years ago, she was one of the youngest superintendents in the state. But that didn’t mean she was going to sit back and quietly learn the ropes.

Instead she dedicated herself to a years-long effort that brought her schools up to an international level of instruction, gave her students academic and professional advantages, engaged families in the success of the schools, and raised property values in the process.

Now Washington Township is one of the most innovative districts in Indiana, if not the country: it’s one of only six school districts in the world instructing every one of its students in the International Baccalaureate model of education. And in her case, that’s a lot of students: Woodson had 12,000 K-12 students and 1,800 employees to bring on board. This accomplishment is even more noteworthy given the diversity of the district’s students–70 percent are students of color and more than half are from low-income families.

The IB is a universal curriculum designed originally for the children of diplomats so they could move from country to country without their education suffering. Now the rigorous IB program is used in authorized schools all over the world, including those serving children with no diplomats in the family. The perspective the system offers–encouraging personal as well as academic development, stressing critical thinking, and fostering understanding of the global community­–makes its graduates particularly attractive to colleges.

As Supt. Woodson told the Indianapolis Recorder two years ago:

“Research shows that the jobs our students will face in the future don’t even exist today. We’re preparing them for this. Learning to memorize things and regurgitating information from a book is no longer going to cut it for these students. They have to be designers, creators and inquirers to come up with ideas and synthesize information and knowledge.”

With the help of Supt. Woodson, Washington Township’s students will have a leg up when it comes to achieving success in this changing world.

Comment

David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.