The D.C. Public Schools has had a troubling and contentious history not only in the classroom but among its leadership. Over the past 39 years, 19 school superintendents, later called chancellors, including those who were interim and acting, have served. Lewis Ferebee, if confirmed by the D.C. Council, will become the 20th.
Ferebee, 44, was nominated by Mayor Muriel Bowser in December 2018. He is the former superintendent of the Indianapolis schools and is currently serving as acting DC schools chancellor. For the preceding 11 months, Amanda Anderson served as interim chancellor, following Antwan Wilson who was forced to resign last February after only serving for one year. While many education and parent leaders believed Anderson was a great choice for chancellor, after rising through the ranks of the D.C. School system and articulating a forward-thinking vision for DCPS, the mayor decided to go outside to find a new leader.
Ferebee is clearly not a standout candidate. This week’s council hearing proved that as he faced a grilling from members who expressed a deep concern for his commitment to traditional public education versus charter schools, his commitment to neighborhood schools and his ability to close the achievement gap and bring equitable resources to schools across the city. A controversy over his handling of a sexual assault case between a teacher and a student is still in litigation in which he is a defendant.
Since his nomination, Ferebee has visited numerous schools across the District where students grilled him even more. They, too, are demanding better academic choices, greater resources and improved safety. During a visit to Ballou SHS in Ward 8, students reportedly told the nominee that he will be expected to visit often, not just once to get a job. The next time, they told him, don’t come in a suit and tie. “We want a chancellor who we feel we can relate to.”
The council has until April 9 to disapprove Ferebee’s nomination, allowing time for more concerned citizens to weigh in. Ferebee may not be the cream of the crop, but if education advocates don’t weigh in, he’ll be all we’ve got.