After 11 years of centralization, Lewis D. Ferebee, the choice of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to be the next D.C. schools chancellor (subject to confirmation by the D.C. Council), will bring a fresh perspective to D.C. Public Schools. As superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, his signature strategy was empowering principals and teachers.
Tall and bespectacled, Ferebee is an affable, soft-spoken leader with an easy smile and a low-key manner. A former public school teacher and assistant principal in his native North Carolina, he says his leadership journey began when, at 25, a superintendent asked him to become principal of his worst elementary school. “He gave me the keys and said, ‘Lewis, you have carte blanche authority. If anybody comes to you about a decision you made, have them come to me.’ ”
That autonomy was the key to his success, Ferebee says. “At the end of the day, if principals feel handcuffed, if teachers feel handcuffed, you’re stifling their creativity. Your best teachers are your most innovative and creative teachers, and they know their learners. So when you don’t give them the full opportunity to make informed decisions about what they know, you’re limiting the opportunity for them to be successful.”
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