This week Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee met with local business leaders and philanthropists to update them on district progress and areas of growth. Welcomed by an enthusiastic audience, Dr. Ferebee encouraged participants to support IPS’ key initiatives and shared some inspiring words about the perks and perils of leadership, while infusing a bit of humor.


At the luncheon hosted by the Economic Club of Indiana – celebrating its 40th year of bringing thought leaders together to promote its mission “to promote an interest in, and enlighten its membership on, important governmental, economic and social issues” – Dr. Ferebee was asked to share with attendees the IPS story, including insights on his leadership of the district. The superintendent began his 30-minute keynote session with a staggering reminder of what was commonly reported about IPS at the time of his 2013 arrival in Indianapolis:


“Indianapolis Public Schools: More Than Half of Residents in District are Dissatisfied with School System”


“IPS Makes Boneheaded Move in Slashing Principals’ Salaries”


“Programmed to Fail: IPS’s Next Superintendent”


He then followed those headlines – which were all taken from actual news reports – with others that were equally authentic:


“IPS Approach to Improving Schools Could Go Statewide”


“New Dynamic Emerges in Indianapolis Public Schools”


“New IPS Superintendent Listening, Learning in Schools”


Highlighting marked efforts to become more service-oriented, transparent and contemporary over the past three years, Dr. Ferebee, in a moment of levity, shared some humorous screenshots contrasting former outmoded communication and engagement tools used by the district and the current methods. Furthering leaders’ understanding of important strides made by IPS, Ferebee provided an informative breakdown of IPS Strategic Plan 2015 – the district’s three-year roadmap toward Excellence in the areas of Teaching and Learning, Efficient Operations, and Family and Community. He specified among each of these three goal areas, key effort and initiatives that demonstrate the district’s conversion from closed, mediocre, misaligned or in-effective practices to collaborative, intentional, measurable and strategic efforts.


Ferebee provided an update on implementation progress and encouraged leaders in attendance – representing Indianapolis’s largest corporate, higher education, non-profit organizations – to get involved by finding their area of affinity in the strategic plan. He shared three targeted funding and/or volunteer asks:


  • Connect with the IPS Office of Advancement to identify a preferred niche area of IPS Strategic Plan, which encompasses 98 specific goals, objectives and strategies
  • Support ReadUP – the district’s leading literacy initiative connecting students with caring adults who volunteers who offer their time to tutor and mentor youth, in partnership with United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI)
  • Engage in JA Job Spark – an exciting new initiative to engage Indianapolis students early in thoughtful career planning, exposing them to a world of opportunities through employment and apprenticeships, in partnership with Junior Achievement


Dr. Ferebee also shared with members of the Economic Club, some of his leadership philosophies and defining moments, in a small preview of his upcoming session at Education Week’s 2016 Leaders to Learn From forum in Washington, D.C. Reflections about district successes – that were not accomplished without overcoming challenges – shared by the superintendent included:


  • a record collective bargaining session to bring about greater role differentiation and increased teacher pay;
  • intensified school transformation efforts targeting the district’s low-performing schools; and
  • legislation to allow for more innovative partnerships between traditional and charter schools to provide every student access to a high-quality school.


Among other interesting leadership nuggets, Ferebee candidly discussed the need to weigh the cost of innovation. He stated that “nothing is free, there is a cost and risk to every change.” He challenged participants to consider the mark they leave on society and their impact on others by asking, “What’s your legacy?”


With a proven track record of success in urban public education, our courageous leader definitely leaves an indelible impression wherever he seeks to make an impact. We’ll be sure to follow Dr. Ferebee’s inspiring session in March with leaders from across our nation!