During Lewis Ferebee’s five years as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, the district has faced some steep challenges — and still has obstacles ahead.
But Ferebee, who announced Monday he would be leaving to take the top education job in Washington, D.C., told Chalkbeat he felt the district was turning a corner and was able to move ahead without him.
“Timing is never really ideal,” Ferebee said. “Regardless of when a leader transitions, people immediately think about, there’s more work to do, and I think you never reach a point where there’s no more work to do. That’s just the challenge of being in a leadership public service position.”
Ferebee will start full-time in D.C. on Jan. 31. Below are excerpts from his interview with Chalkbeat, edited for brevity and clarity.
On why he felt ready to leave IPS
I think the course of events most recently in Indianapolis is a vote of confidence, I think, to have over 70 percent of the voters support the referendums. It’s a vote of confidence that a district is moving in the right direction, so I actually am very comfortable, very confident, the district is poised well to continue on the path of progress.
For me, the opportunity to work with a strong leader that we have in Mayor (Muriel) Bowser in Washington, D.C., obviously, was very attractive to me.
But I do think we’ve turned a corner (in IPS), and I think with the referendum specifically, I would be worried if we didn’t have a plan to execute on teacher compensation and the facility upgrades to safety and security, but we have a clear plan that is in process, most of which I anticipate will be executed upon before my departure, specifically around teacher compensation.
To anyone that has that worry, I want to give them that confidence that we are going to follow through on that particular promise.
On what he’s most proud of in his work with IPS
So much. I think for me there’s many accomplishments I can get into. The transparency of our finances and driving efficiencies in an effort to push dollars to the classroom and ensure we could push dollars to teacher compensation in a time where we were receiving significantly less funding.
I’m also really proud of the way that we emerged with teacher leadership. We’ve created a number of teacher leadership roles and also career ladders for teachers that I believe has elevated teacher expertise and maximized talent in the district.
When I first came here, we were relying on a lot of external consultants to help us better improve performance. Today, proudly, we rely primarily on internal expertise to do that work.
Prior to my arrival we had not had a salary increase for teachers for half a decade. I’m proud that we were able to not only provide teachers salary increases but we’ve done that in multiple years.
Most importantly, I believe that we progressed in delivering on the mission of better prepared students to succeed in college and career.
On why his push to partner with charter schools in Indianapolis isn’t a sure thing for D.C.
The strategy in Durham (N.C., where Ferebee worked previously) was not the strategy in Indianapolis. As I started in Indianapolis, I began with a listening tour, and beginning to understand our needs and our assets, our strengths. And from those conversations we began to build strategy and a strategic plan that represented solutions that were Indianapolis-specific.
That same process will occur in my transition to Washington, D.C., and I think that’s the way you should always operate. There’s no silver bullets; there’s no (piece) that you can just transport from one community to the next.
At the time, Indianapolis had faced school takeover and the threat of further school takeover. It’s just a different landscape.
On what he’ll miss about Indianapolis
The people. Indianapolis is a community where we come together around a big issue, and we get it done like no other urban community. There’s been a number of challenges that collectively, collaboratively, we’ve done great things for children.
It’s just been phenomenal to have great people, great supporters, and so many people that have rallied behind IPS, and that will be missed.
Personally, I’m a foodie. I think Indianapolis has some amazing restaurants. I also really began to enjoy biking. I think we’re one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, and Saturdays and Sundays on the Monon will be missed.