Dr. Lewis Ferebee, handpicked to sit at the helm of DC Public Schools, jumped into his role as acting chancellor on Monday, Jan. 21, volunteering at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast for MLK Day festivities and joining revelers on the street named for the slain civil rights leader at the District’s 13th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk & Parade in Southeast.
Those appearances, and a tour of Anne Beers Elementary School, also in Southeast, counted among the opportunities Ferebee, former superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, embraced in his effort to engage the communities he will serve if the D.C. Council confirms his nomination in February.
“I have respect for the confirmation process and hope to speak about what’s important to me and the strategies I can bring as we move to the next phase,” Ferebee said as he left Beers Elementary last Thursday morning.
“[On other occasions], I’ve spoken about transparency on allocation of funds, equity and bolstering early childhood education and literacy to make sure students have the skills they need early.”
By the first Saturday in December last year, the Our Schools Leadership Committee narrowed down the chancellor search to Ferebee and then-interim Chancellor Dr. Amanda Alexander. On the following Monday, Ferebee’s nomination had been announced, with various reactions among city leadership and residents.
Hours after the news broke, Ward 8 State Board of Education Representative Markus Batchelor told The Informer that he hoped to learn more about Ferebee and gain insight about how he would increase transparency within DC Public Schools.
In a statement, D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At large), chair of the council’s Committee on Education, lauded Alexander, a 20-year DCPS veteran, for her service during a “period of intense public scrutiny” before pledging that Ferebee would be thoroughly vetted upon the Council’s return in 2019. His office didn’t provide further comment on the confirmation process or the implications of a change in DC Public School leadership.
The Council Committee on Education hosted a roundtable at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School on Wednesday. A similar gathering will take place on February 6 at Cardozo Education Campus in Northwest.
D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), whose ward includes two of the lowest-scoring high schools in the STAR rating system, weighed in on the nomination process.
“One of my biggest concerns is how he would address teacher turnover in the schools and how Dr. Ferebee would connect with community members and address public safety,” White said. “How would he connect communities when it comes to that? How would he provide community organizations a platform to provide wraparound services for children and families?”
During his five-year stint as Indianapolis schools superintendent, Ferebee replaced the neighborhood school system with pre-college and vocational academies. He also collaborated with charter schools to take over low-performing elementary campuses.
Ferebee’s recent outreach to DC Public Schools students, family and personnel hasn’t quelled some concerns about a potential lapse in stability as he adjusts to his new role, including those from Wendy Glenn, grandmother of a Simon Elementary School student.
“I thought Dr. Alexander was doing a good job,” Glenn said. “I’m not for all this changing our ship mid-stream. Dr. Alexander knows our system and I’ve been comfortable with having stability.”
Glenn also stressed that the chancellor should be without blemish that would distract from the mission at hand, referencing an alleged cover up in Indianapolis Public Schools that involved a counselor and two students with whom the counselor had been accused of having sexual relations.
In 2016, two Indianapolis Public Schools officials resigned shortly after being charged with misdemeanors for failing to report the counselor after a mother of one of the students notified them.
Ferebee, who later received a $28,000 performance bonus, reportedly denied knowing about the misconduct, beyond the warning of a potentially inappropriate relationship.
“When I did my own research on the chancellor, I was concerned that he was in charge of a school system that covered up improprieties between teachers and students,” Glenn added. “We don’t need that in our school system. We need someone beyond reproach who knows our system and cares for our children.”