Ferebee takes reins at IPS

Dr. Lewis Ferebee
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Monday was the first day of school for the new superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

From the looks of things, he has plenty of homework.

Dr. Lewis Ferebee is in charge of one of Indiana's biggest and most troubled school systems. IPS is under fire to improve schools and cut spending by millions of dollars. Ferebee is already looking and listening for answers.

Bus 91 rolled up loaded with elementary school students and a new superintendent learning his way around IPS.

"Very exciting," Ferebee said with a smile. "I've been anticipating this day for quite some time now."

He is in the driver's seat of a struggling inner city school system. High poverty and under achievement are the norm. IPS faces a $25 million budget deficit. Only half the students pass their ISTEP exams and two-thirds of IPS schools are graded D or F by the state.

Why would he look forward to the job? Ferebee didn't hesitate.

"This is something I enjoy. It is a mission of mine," he said.

As the chief of staff of Durham, North Carolina public schools, Ferebee is credited for reducing the number of low performing schools to zero. Instead of visiting one of IPS's highest performing schools, he chose to visit a struggling school, one facing the biggest challenges. Turning them around, he insists, is an issue of social justice.

"If we don't find a way to educate our students here in the city, I don't think we will be able to move forward as a city," he explained.

Ninety percent of IPS students are bused to and from school. Ferebee says he wanted to see firsthand what "customers" experience. He said the ride, the students, and the driver were "great."

Before making changes, Ferebee says he needs to listen and learn - to students, parents and educators - to hear what they need and want. That's a relief to a community weary of quick decisions.

"The biggest thing I would work on is communication with parents. Communication with teachers. That's always been the biggest thing for me," said Jessica Underwood, the mother of two.

Ferebee is already making one intention clear.

"I have high expectations for all our students and all our staff," he said in a no nonsense tone.

The new superintendent will have quickly turn expectations into tangible results. The state has already taken over four failing schools. IPS has lost students and millions of dollars to competing charter and private schools and that big budget deficit isn't likely to go away without substantial and painful cuts.