Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, who handled tough problems as Chief of Staff of the Durham (North Carolina) Public Schools, is the new Superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). The son of educators, Dr. Ferebee was unanimously tapped by the IPS School Board during an executive session on Saturday and was formally announced as Superintendent Monday. Dr. Ferebee, 39, is the youngest and the third African-American to hold the position.
Ferebee’s selection caps a six month long search process which began in January when the Board and former Superintendent Dr. Eugene White agreed to part company. The Board then embarked on a series of community meetings and surveys to gather input, then a national search for the next leader of the 29,000 student district. The search resulted in some forty individuals applying for the position. The Board selected eight for preliminary interviews and invited three to visit last week for final interviews and an opportunity to meet the community. Several Board members said that during Saturday’s meeting, Ferebee quickly emerged as the strong favorite of the majority and after additional discussion, the Board unanimously agreed to offer Ferebee the job.
After the Board’s decision, President Diane Arnold said , “We selected a tremendous candidate who will do great positive work for our district and our children. We worked hard. He is very excited. “ Board member and former hospital executive Sam Odle said, “Although a young professional, (Ferebee) has experience actually doing the work that needs to be done at IPS”. “He’s been a teacher and inspired great results from students”, Odle continued. “He has been principal and turned around failing schools. He has worked to right size a district that has lost student population involving the community in the process.” Odle feels strongly, as do other Board members that Ferebee “will be a steady hand, a collaborator and will work to re establish IPS’s positive role in a complex educational milieu in Indianapolis”.
In a statement, Dr. Ferebee accepted his new assignment: “I am honored to learn that the Indianapolis Public Schools Board has selected me as their preferred superintendent candidate. I have relished my discussions with Board members and have come to regard them as talented and well intended individuals who are passionate about ensuring positive outcomes for students and families of the district. I endeavor to do the same. I thank the Commissioners and the community for warmly hosting me this past week. I thoroughly enjoyed my time touring the city and interacting with individuals who are personally committed to raising expectations of what our children can do to awaken in them the determination to excel at whatever they choose to do. Together, I believe we can remarkably enhance the educational opportunities to which our children avail themselves. I greatly anticipate further discussion with the Board in the coming weeks to finalize the terms under which I will serve the Indianapolis Public Schools community as superintendent.”
Dr. Ferebee is married and the couple has a son. They will live in the IPS District and their son attend IPS.
A state law that took effect last year requires that before a school district can officially hire a superintendent, their contract must be publicly released and a hearing held. Because of that, the Board hasn’t set when they’ll publicly affirm Dr. Ferebee’s hiring. Ferebee spent a whirlwind day in Indianapolis last Thursday, along with the other finalists for the Superintendent’s job, meeting formally and informally with Board members and meeting with community members and media.
During last week’s community meeting at the IPS Education Center, which attracted an overflow crowd of over 225, including City-County Council President Maggie Lewis, Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth, State Representatives Greg Porter and Cherrish Pryor, Baptist Ministers Alliance President Rev. Ray Ware and many others, Ferebee talked about his family’s influence on his life and talked about his career. A principal at age 25, youngest ever in North Carolina, Ferebee said he wanted to be assigned to lead one of the low performing schools in his then North Carolina district. Under his leadership, he said, his students outperformed the state. For the past three years in Durham, Ferebee oversaw the day to day academics and operations of a school district with over 32,000 students in a community of 273,992. Like IPS, Durham faced budget cuts mandated by a parsimonious North Carolina legislature and well as enrollment declines.
Ferebee told media that the biggest chunk of the budget savings “came from personnel. We closed two schools, we did reorganize our central services and we did eliminate some central services personnel as well.” In Durham, Ferebee said, they did some outsourcing, specifically janitorial services. Ferebee also told media that Durham had “a growing charter (schools) movement” and had lost enrollment, like IPS. But they’ve reversed that trend; Freebee said by “Create(ing) a plan to market ourselves, to be competitive among the other institutions in our community. Then we saw more students wanting to be a part of the Durham Public Schools.” Ferebee stressed his belief that his background and experience has qualified and prepared him to lead IPS. During the community meeting and during a live AM1310 The Light Afternoons with Amos interview Ferebee said he wants to partner with the larger community. (Click Arrow To Hear That Interview with Dr. Ferebee. Runs 11 Minutes ©2013 WTLC/Radio One.)
In talking with Board members they said that Ferebee stressed that his first priority would be to engage IPS’ families, parents, teachers, and support staff. Ferebee told Board members that he wants to know the strengths in IPS and where to improve. To work as a team, to work proactively to improve education for every child in the district. As he told community members last week, “I’ve been teacher in a high poverty school and a turnaround school principal. I’m committed and ready to serve as your next Superintendent.”
The two other finalists for IPS Superintendent, Millard L. House, Chief Operating Officer of the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Schools and a longtime Tulsa Oklahoma educator with experience in traditional public schools and charters and Indianapolis native, Tech High School graduate and business executive Thomas E. Darden, Jr. also met with the community and media. Speaking at the community meeting, House took people “back forty-one years” describing his upbringing in a family of educators. House admitted he was a special needs child who overcame a reading comprehension disability. Like Ferebee, House became the youngest principal in Oklahoma history. After five years in Tulsa schools, House went and worked five years at a KIPP charter middle school he founded in Tulsa. House talked not just of preparing students for college but making sure that IPS had programs that prepared those students for careers that didn’t require college. He promised close collaboration with all parts of the community, including charter schools and other educational institutions. House said “the job doesn’t scare me”.
Thomas Darden stressed his community ties growing up in Martindale-Brightwood, attending IPS School 38 and Tech. Despite his extensive business career, Darden said he “wanted to devote the last third of his career giving back the community by working in education”. Darden stressed his work in Philadelphia where he turned around the academics at seventeen low performing schools. “All kids can learn at a high level”, said Darden who stressed the importance of high quality leadership, clear and consistent discipline and behavior standards and the importance of finding a robust approach to improving parental engagement. Darden told the meeting, “I’m homegrown. I will be steadfast and passionate”. But Darden was dogged by concerns about the failure of his venture capital firm (Reliant Equity Investors in 2008), and lawsuits by the US Department of Labor concerning one of Reliant’s owned companies that went bust. There were also issues surrounding Darden’s tenure as a top administrator in the Philadelphia schools. When he met with media and questioned by the AM1310 The Light, the Indianapolis Recorder and Indianapolis Star, about these issues, Darden became testy, defensive, and argumentative. Not good traits in a potential school’s chief.