IPS board approves new superintendent Ferebee's contract

Dr. Lewis Ferebee
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After months of searching and weeks of negotiating, the Indianapolis Public Schools system has a new superintendent.

The IPS board unanimously approved Dr. Lewis Ferebee's contract at a public meeting.

After the vote, the new superintendent told an audience of parents, teachers and school board members that he had two priorities. The first, he said, was to make Indianapolis home for him and his family. The second priority he listed was to listen and to learn.

"I'm extremely proud, humble and excited to be before you this evening as your superintendent," Ferebee told an audience at IPS headquarters.

Even though Ferebee now holds the top job in the state's second-biggest school district, the new superintendent made it clear he wants to hear from teachers, parents and students.

"I will ask two essential questions," Ferebee told those gathered. "What are our strengths and how can we improve."

To accomplish that, Ferebee said he would have a transition team made up of civic groups, faith-based leaders, parents and business leaders to help him create a vision for IPS.

"Your voice, our plan," said Ferebee.

The new superintendent will be inheriting his share of challenges with a $30 million budget deficit in the district.

"We don't have any sacred cows at this point and we will continue to study how we can be more efficient, more fiscally prudent, but today, I can't give you specifics," he said when asked if there were any plans to close any IPS schools who may be struggling with enrollment numbers.

Plus, with ISTEP+ scores well below the state's average and two-thirds of the district's schools rated as failing or below average, all eyes will be on how the new superintendent plans to change that.

"Proficiency alone really doesn't tell us whether or not all our students are growing," said Ferebee. "I prefer a model that gives us that type of indication of whether or not all of our students are growing whether they're below proficiency, on grade level or above grade level. I want all our students growing."

Just how the new superintendent thinks that should be measured wasn't totally clear.

Ferebee said he doesn't think grades and standard test scores alone are the way, saying he's in favor of ongoing surveys of students and parents.

"If you let parents know that you want to hear from them, which sometimes they're not accustomed to, they'll be more than happy to provide that voice," said Ferebee.

Hearing those voices, though, will need to wait until next month.

The new superintendent starts work September 23. He has one school-aged child who he said he plans to send to an IPS school, but could not yet say which one.

Ferebee, the former Chief of Staff for Durham Public Schools, will start at IPS on Monday, September 23. Dr. Peggy Hinckley will remain as Interim Superintendent until then.

The IPS board reached a contract deal with Ferebee in July. He will earn a base salary of $198,000 a year and up to $25,000 a year in performance pay, $1,000 a month for a car allowance, as well as $6,000 the first year for personal growth activities and moving expenses.

He also gets the standard benefits package including insurance, a retirement plan and paid time off.

Read Ferebee's contract

In a press release issued Friday, IPS says Ferebee has "extensive experience in attenuating the impact of poverty on academic achievement boasts strategic turnaround for struggling Title I schools, double-digit gains in End of Course Assessments (ECA) for Biology, Algebra and English, and aggressive reductions in the dropout rate with concurrent increases in the graduation rate as compared to state performance."

Career Highlights (per IPS)

Dr. Ferebee reduced to zero the number of schools in Durham designated by the state as "low performing."

He led North Carolina in the number of middle schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) among large urban school districts.

Dr. Ferebee implemented a pre-Advanced Placement curriculum accessible to all middle school students.

He increased secondary math performance to a proficiency rate above 95%.

Dr. Ferebee, a successful grant writer, has garnered millions via the prestigious federal Race to the Top Grant among a host of school improvement funding.