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IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee Named Next Leader At Washington D.C. Schools

(Eric Weddle)

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee was named as the next leader of Washington, D.C. public schools Monday by the mayor.

This new high profile position will hold national influence as Ferebee will likely continue his work started in Indianapolis five years ago to turnaround struggling schools. He's expected to start this position full-time on January 31st. Ferebee will be paid a base salary of $280,000 but he still needs to be confirmed by the council of the District of Columbia. 

"He is a strong leader and educator, and has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to providing all students and families high-quality educational opportunities," D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said in a statement.

District of Columbia Public Schools enrolls around 48,000 students across 116 schools during the current school year. By contrast, IPS has around 30,000 students. Students in both districts predominantly receive free or reduced-price lunch due to their family income.

Brandon Brown, the CEO of The MindTrust –– a local education reform non-profit that has supported Ferebee and his policies –– says the superintendent’s policies have attracted national attention.

"His decision to take the chancellorship in Washington, D.C. as an example of the nationally significant work that’s happening here," Brown says. "The work he’s led has been so significant there have been school districts across the country who have inquired to see if he would leave."

Ferebee has overseen a broad range of reforms since becoming the IPS leader in 2013, including the closure of three high schools. The overall rating of the district increased from F to D on the state’s accountability scale.

The announcement that Ferebee will be the District’s sixth permanent school leader since 2000.

His willingness to partner with charter schools has drawn national acclaim and local criticism, including from some state lawmakers.

“I have no other mission, no other agenda than to give our children a better education,” Ferebee said during a 2015 forum when he was accused of efforts to privatize some district schools.

Ferebee fought for passage of a state law that allows public schools districts to partner with charter operators to create new schools or restart failing schools by contracting outside groups. Ferebee worked with Indianapolis education reform group The Mind Trust and the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office to expanded that model in the district over the past few years. That’s led to 20 schools with some level of autonomy or partnerships with established charter schools.

"Now just a few years later, there are 20 innovation network schools serving 25 percent of the students in IPS and those schools have seen tremendous growth," Brown says. "We think that is his No. 1 legacy."

Ferebee is also fresh off the success of the November election when Marion County voters overwhelmingly approved two property-tax increases worth a total of $272 million for IPS to increase teacher pay and fund a wide array of safety initiatives.

Yet during the same election, two school board commissioner candidates with campaigns that criticized Ferebee’s leadership and policies won seats. Those commissioners will oversee the hiring of Ferebee’s replacement.

The IPS Community Coalition endorsed these two newly elected commissioners. One of its leaders, Chrissy Smith says she hopes the next IPS superintendent will be more critical towards the current administration's policies. 

"There's been this rush to bring on more and more and more innovation schools," Smith says. "There's not been that real critical eye in looking at what's going to be best and if this is really going to work." 

A scandal for Ferebee involved a counselor accused of having sex with two teenage students. Ferebee and his staff were aware of the allegations but did not immediately report it to state officials. Some IPS staff were fired over the incident. A federal lawsuit filed by a victim in the case is still open.

Ferebee receives a base pay of $214,581. The amount combined with district retirement contributions and a monthly $1,000 automobile allowance, brings Ferebee's annual compensation to $286,769.

In a statement, the members of the IPS Board of Commissioners said they are proud of his work on behalf of the students in the district and will soon meet to discuss transition decisions and interim leadership.

"We are committed to making sure that our schools and our children lose no momentum in the progress we are making and that the IPS System continues on our path to providing a world-class education to all our students through the hard work of our principals and our teachers," the statement said. 

Ferebee could not immediately be reached for comment.

This report will be updated.

Reporter Eric Weddle contributed to this report.

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