Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) selected Lewis Ferebee as the new chancellor for D.C. Public Schools at a press conference Dec. 3 amid a series of scandals that have dogged the school system in recent years and community concerns over Bowser’s decision-making process.
Ferebee, who previously served as the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, is set to replace former Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who resigned in February 2018 after circumventing the D.C. Public Schools lottery system to enroll his daughter at Woodrow Wilson Public High School.
Ferebee will inherit numerous other scandals that the DCPS administration has faced over the last two years, including hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in miscollected tuition and accusations of falsified student attendance records.
Bowser said she chose Ferebee because of his past experience leading a public education system and his commitment to serving community members.
“When I looked at Dr. Ferebee’s background and experience, I believe strongly that he matches what our community wants and needs most and is able to come and do great things with us and for students, families and educators,” Bowser said at the press conference.
Since December 2013, Ferebee has served as the superintendent of IPS. At IPS, Ferebee helped create programs to increase opportunities for students to succeed in college and the workforce, including negotiating raises for teachers, according to a Dec. 3 DCPS news release.
The six-month search for the new chancellor was aided by the Our Schools Leadership Committee, which conducted a community engagement process to advise Bowser. The panel consisted of students, parents, teachers and community stakeholders and was responsible for providing community input on the search, according to the OSLC website.
The majority of OSLC members, which also included members of the Washington Teachers Union, did not recommend Ferebee, instead supporting interim DCPS Chancellor Amanda Alexander, according to The Washington Times.
In August, a group of residents attempted to obtain a restraining order against Bowser because they worried she had not nominated enough members to the advisory committee and did not plan to listen to their recommendations. In September, Bowser added two students, two teachers and a parent to the panel but failed to provide their resumes to the panel, The Washington Times reported.
Following Wilson’s dismissal, Alexander, former chief of elementary schools, served as the interim chancellor for DCPS, beginning in February, according to DCist. Alexander was the other front-runner for the position of chancellor, according to The Washington Post.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as DCPS interim chancellor for the last 10 months. During this time, Mayor Bowser and DCPS have released new Pre-K to Graduation policies that are supportive, inclusive and equitable,” Alexander wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am confident that incoming Chancellor Ferebee will continue to build on the progress we have made, and I know that DCPS will continue to do great things for students and families.”
Ferebee is set to begin his role on Jan. 31, 2019, pending confirmation of his nomination by the D.C. Council early next year.
The Council Committee on Education plans to schedule public engagement sessions on Ferebee’s nomination in January because the upcoming end of the council period prevents the inclusion of additional meetings this month.
Since Ferebee comes from outside of the District, Chair of the Committee on Education David Grosso (I-At Large) encouraged public feedback in advance of the council’s vote.
“In Mr. Ferebee, the mayor has chosen to nominate an individual from outside the District of Columbia. The vetting of such a candidate should not be taken lightly or hastily,” Grosso said in a press release Dec. 3. “As always, I encourage and welcome public feedback, comments, questions and concerns about the nomination as we prepare for a hearing on the nominee.”
Wilson’s resignation was not the first scandal to have reached DCPS this year. Last month, the D.C. Office of Government Ethics found that a DCPS employee used his position to gain business for his own event planning company. In September, DCPS unintentionally posted the personal information of 2,000 homeless students on its website, where it kept the information up for seven months. In April, DCPS lost over $500,000 in tuition by failing to verify the residency of enrolled students.
The scandals were not limited to this year, as in December 2017, one high school in DCPS graduated dozens of students who should not have been able to graduate after failing to meet certain attendance requirements.