Lewis Ferebee chosen as new IPS superintendent

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Indianapolis Public Schools have a new leader.

Dr. Lewis Ferebee, 39, of Durham, North Carolina has been chosen as superintendent. He now faces the challenges of turning around a district with failing schools, falling budgets and dwindling enrollment.

IPS board members say Dr. Ferebee has solved all of those problems before. He stood out from the other candidates in the way he engaged parents, educators and community leaders, board president Diane Arnold observed.

"People kind of leaning in. He's very soft spoken. But I believe people can speak softly and carry a big stick," said Arnold.

Ferebee will need lots of big sticks and plenty of people skills.

IPS has a $30 million deficit. Two-thirds of its schools are graded D or F. Some may have to be closed because of declining enrollment and falling state funding.

All are problems board members say Ferebee confronted and solved as chief of staff of Durham North Carolina's Public Schools.

"Many of the candidates had brilliant ideas. We were very impressed with them. However, he could show us this is what I have done. This is where I've come from," said Michael Brown, IPS commissioner.

The unanimous decision came from a school board that has rarely agreed on anything lately.

"He's demonstrated he can do the work. He's gonna have our full support to do it," said school board member Sam Odle.

Arnold said every candidate demonstrated excellent leadership skills, but "the skills Dr. Ferebee had really were a great fit for the issues" IPS is facing.

She also said IPS is looking for someone who will set a bar higher than current state standards.

Another factor, Arnold said: "He knows how to go out and secure additional resources."

Ferebee is taking over from Dr. Eugene White, who stepped down as IPS head earlier this year.

Ferebee, who was unable to attend the announcement, issued a written statement praising people he met here "who are personally committed to raising expectations of what our children can do."

It is doubtful IPS can improve ISTEP scores, increasing graduations rates, and cut spending without help. Critics say partnerships with civic groups, business leaders, parents and teachers critics say have been lacking. Board members insist that will change.

"We are really impressed with his desire and skill with working with other people," said Odle.

Adversaries, charter schools, school reform groups and others hope they will now be part of IPS improvement plans.

"No matter what, we want to see a successful school. If that involves a district working with a charter, then that is what we want to do," said Justin Ohlemiller, STAND for Children.

Change is apparently coming to inner city classrooms. The question now is how and when.

Board members hope to have Dr. Ferebee in his office in less than two months. He and his wife have a son who will be attending IPS schools.

Dr. Ferebee will be in Indianapolis next week to work out a contract. In addition to pay and benefits, there could be additional incentives based on school improvement and other job performance goals.

Mayor Greg Ballard issued this statement:

"I congratulate Dr. Lewis Ferebee on his appointment as the next Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. Improving the educational outcome of Indianapolis children is one of the top issues facing our city. My team and I are eager to collaborate with Dr. Ferebee and IPS as we work toward this outcome together."

Learn more about Dr. Ferebee here.