Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

New IPS Superintendent Ferebee Has Experience With Turnaround, Budget Cuts

Lewis Ferebee selected as new superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

Photo Courtesy IPS

Lewis Ferebee is the new superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.

The state’s second-largest school corporation has a new superintendent.

Indianapolis Public Schools announced Monday its board had selected Durham, N.C., superintendent Lewis Ferebee to lead the district.

“I have relished my discussions with Board members and have come to regard them as talented and well intended individuals who are passionate about ensuring positive outcomes for students and families of the district,” Ferebee said in a release. “I endeavor to do the same.”

Earlier this year former IPS superintendent Eugene White cited the “new vision” of the IPS Board as one reason he was stepping down. During White’s seven years as superintendent, test scores generally went up and the district’s graduation rate improved. But clashes with state lawmakers over four low-performing schools IPS lost to state takeover last year marred the end of White’s tenure.

The new superintendent, Ferebee, built a reputation in North Carolina for turning around struggling schools. He also cut $70 million from Durham’s budget, experience that could help him trim the budget at IPS, which faces a $30 million shortfall.

For analysis of what the selection means for IPS, we turn to Indianapolis Star reporter Scott Elliott, who last week described Ferebee as the “safe choice” among the three finalists:

Of the three candidates, Ferebee is the most traditional. He has not worked for a school choice organization like his competition and he has worked his way up through the ranks of a school system by building on a string of impressive successes the way most past IPS school superintendents (such as White) did in their careers.

But if there are board members who feel comfortable with someone with a traditional background, Ferebee has a compelling case that he’s an especially strong option. He has an unusually impressive track record in that he not only turned around schools but he also focused on the very hardest schools in which to make change — middle schools.

Middle school principals love to blame the elementary schools that feed them. If a student shows up in sixth grade far behind in reading and math, it’s indeed tough to catch them up in the short 2 to 4 year window of middle school. By high school, many of the kids that don’t catch up drop out, dooming the kids to employment struggles for life but sparing their high schools of the task of rehabilitating them academically. But Ferebee went up from elementary principal, asking to take over a troubled middle school, out of frustration with what was happening to his kids after they left his school.

Ferebee beat out Thomas Darden, a venture capitalist, and Millard House, the former leader of Tulsa, Okla., schools, for the IPS job. Currently former MSD Warren Township schools chief Peggy Hinckley is leading the district as interim superintendent.


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