A little over a year after Antwan Wilson resigned as D.C. Public Schools chancellor, the city council unanimously approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s selection of former Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to lead a D.C. system mired in more than a decade of controversy.
Tuesday morning’s vote culminated a monthslong process that tested Ferebee’s ability to convince elected officials, teachers, parents, students and community members of his qualifications and dedication to implementing new ideas and closing an ever-persistent achievement gap.
Despite initial reservations, Ferebee had a believer in Ward 8 Council member Trayon White (D) who called for all hands on deck as Ferebee, no longer acting chancellor at this point, embarks on the new leg of his professional journey.
“In my conversations with Ferebee, he gave me assurances about career and technical education programs,” White told his council colleagues. “He talked about his trip to Ballou Senior High School and getting feedback from students.”
Last month, White and At-large D.C. Council member Robert White (D) voted “present” in the D.C. Council Committee on Education’s approval of the March 5 confirmation hearing.
From the onset, Trayon White had expressed concerns about the quality of vocational training programs for DCPS students, public safety, educational equity and the possibility of further school closures and consolidation.
On Tuesday, White reiterated his anxiety about college and career readiness as he recounted seeing students not engaging vocational and technical coursework during his visits to local schools. A conversation with Ferebee on Monday, however, helped White see the chancellor in a new light, as he explained moments before council members approved Ferebee’s confirmation.
“I felt some positive reassurances [on Monday] since voting present [at the Education Committee meeting last month],” White said. “It’s not all Ferebee’s responsibility to ensure people get an education. We have to be intentional about our goals and intentions. If not, we’ll get the same old, same old.”
The D.C. Council Committee on Education’s recommendation that the Committee of the Whole approve Ferebee followed its thorough interview of the then-acting chancellor that lasted into the late evening hours on Feb. 12.
The six-hour Q&A session brought to light debate about the degree to which Ferebee would support the longevity of D.C. Public Schools, his ability to close the achievement gap, how he would boost teacher retention and the alleged sexual misconduct of an employee during his tenure as Indianapolis superintendent.
Ferebee revealed a four-step process to improve D.C. Public Schools: ensuring that each D.C. neighborhood has high-quality schools providing rigorous instruction at every level, meaningfully engaging schools, parents, teachers and community members, continuing the expansion of early childhood educational opportunities, and introducing career pathways and other means of augmenting curriculum.
For Robert White, Ferebee’s work with teachers, part of a public relations campaign that has taken the chancellor throughout various District communities, piqued his interest and influenced his approval of Ferebee’s confirmation.
“We can’t expect to see change in our classrooms without teachers,” Robert White said Tuesday. “Not only did Ferebee agree to doing a full assessment of IMPACT, but he said he’s been in discussions with the Washington Teachers’ Union. We need someone who wants to shake things up and understands that changing the status quo is the only hope for D.C. students.”
In December, Bowser revealed Ferebee and then-interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander as her top two picks shortly before declaring Ferebee as her final choice.
D.C. Council member and Education Committee Chair David Grosso (I-At large) showed signs of discontent, releasing a press statement hours after expressing the rapport Alexander built with him, and D.C. teachers, parents and students in the aftermath of Wilson’s resignation.
In January and February, the D.C. Council Committee on Education hosted public roundtables at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast and Cardozo Education Campus in Northwest, both of which attracted a bevy of voices including teachers, parents, D.C. Board of Education representatives, and advocates.
A major qualm among those who testified was a lack of transparency during the chancellor selection process.
D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At large) echoed those sentiments Tuesday.
“The chancellor needs to have the confidence of all engaged and interested community members,” she said. “We had a process where people felt the nominee was rubber-stamped. That created tension and lack of trust. It’s not a problem Ferebee created, but to his credit, he has tried to address it. He’s been tireless in community engagement. That shows some political savvy, something lacking in the other chancellor.”