The Indianapolis Public Schools board has selected Lewis Ferebee as the struggling district’s next superintendent.
For the past three years, Ferebee, 39, has been chief of staff in the Durham Public Schools district in North Carolina, a district of roughly the same size as IPS. He has been an educator for 16 years, including an administrator the past 13.
The IPS board chose Ferebee on Saturday to replace Eugene White, who led IPS for nearly eight years until April, when he stepped down. He announced his retirement in January, just weeks after three of his biggest supporters left the IPS board after failing to win re-election.
The IPS board chose Ferebee over two other finalists with less traditional school leader backgrounds.
Thomas Darden had an MBA and had worked for an investment fund before becoming an educator. Millard House served a stint as a principal at a KIPP charter school in between his work in traditional public schools.
In a press release, the IPS board members praised Ferebee for helping his school system achieve double-digit gains on high-school-level standardized tests, reducing the achievement gap between poor students and affluent ones, turning around struggling schools with large numbers of low-income students, reducing dropout rates and boosting graduation rates.
“After an intensive search process, we are excited to have Dr. Ferebee leading our district. We are ready to move forward on behalf of our children with his guidance,” said Diane Arnold, president of the IPS board, in a prepared statement.
IPS has been losing students for decades to suburban districts and, more recently, has lost students to the growing number of charter schools operating in or near its boundaries.
IPS is now the second-largest district in the state, behind the Fort Wayne public schools. In the past seven years, IPS’ enrollment has dropped from 37,500 to 29,800.
It is not yet clear when Ferebee will take over from interim IPS Superintendent Peggy Hinckley.
Ferebee will be handed a budget deficit of $20 million—and that's after the district's moves to streamline one program and lay off 109 people to reduce expenses. IPS is looking for other efficiencies, and will eventually consider closing buildings.
In a statement released by IPS, Ferebee had only positive things to say about the IPS board and the future of the district.
“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,” he said. “Together, I believe we can remarkably enhance the educational opportunities to which our children avail themselves.”
Education reform groups have called for IPS to hire a non-traditional leader to radically change the direction of the district.
The president of one such group, Stand for Children, offered cautious praise that Ferebee could be that kind of leader.
“During the superintendent search process, Stand for Children parents spoke out about the need for an excellent manager, an inspiring leader and a risk-taker who will bring a fresh perspective in their quest to improve educational opportunities for IPS students,” said Justin Ohlemiller, in a prepared statement. “Dr. Ferebee has the potential to be that kind of superintendent, and we stand ready to work with him.”
Ferebee holds a doctorate in educational leadership from East Carolina University. He earned a master’s in school administration from The George Washington University and a bachelor’s in elementary education from North Carolina Central University.