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Board members balk at Ferebee's principal selection process

IPS board member Gayle Cosby questioned whether Superintendent Lewis Ferebee's principal selection process included enough community input. (Scott Elliott)
IPS board member Gayle Cosby questioned whether Superintendent Lewis Ferebee's principal selection process included enough community input. (Scott Elliott)

The hiring of two IPS principals was shelved Tuesday as board members questioned whether Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s new approach to selecting school leaders did enough to involve parents.

“My hope … is this would open the door to other schools and parents who have a concern,” said board member Gayle Cosby, one of the objectors, after a long discussion during which she pitched her own ideas to involve community members in the principal selection process.

But other board members said selecting principals is primarily Ferebee’s job.

“I think we all want more parental involvement and community involvement,” board member Sam Odle said. “I think we ought to be data driven. I’d like to see the metrics they’re using to judge themselves to be successful. We’ve got to make sure we hold the superintendent accountable in selecting the right leadership.”

As Ferebee has been working on a new step-by-step process for choosing school leaders, his major focus has been on exactly what board members were asking for: getting more input from people connected to the schools. He proposed creating feedback panels, which have been put in place already for some searches, composed of a teacher, three other staff and two optional “community stakeholders” to vet principal candidates, with the superintendent having control over the final selection.

“What you see in the policy represents a philosophy of being more inclusive and being more (engaged),” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “Is it perfect? Probably not. I believe we have an opportunity to get this right and we will get it right. We’ll see support we haven’t seen before. We’ll see opportunities we haven’t seen before.”

But the board wanted to go further, voting to mandate that at least one parent be part of each selection panel. They also delayed hiring two proposed principal candidates for Northwest and George Washington high schools so at least one parent at each school would be part of the screening process.

Board member Michael Brown told board members, earning applause from the public audience, that he refused to support the policy if it was not written in stone that parents would be included. He eventually voted for it after the board amended the policy.

“If we don’t get parental buy in, I think we’re saying one thing and doing another,” Brown said, adding later that “for years and years … voices have remained silent because they felt it was falling on deaf ears until we hired a superintended that opened up the door.”

Parents’ feeling about the school matter just as much as test scores and A to F grades, he said.

“You can put a letter grade on any school but how the parents feel their students are doing should have some (input) on how their schools are doing,” Brown said.

Ferebee acknowledged IPS could be better at including parents in the school leadership selection process.

“I think we have some growth opportunities in terms of engaging parents,” Ferebee said. “I think parents should be at the table.”

After the debate, Cosby proposing a resolution specific to George Washington, requiring that its Community Advisory Council be represented in future school leadership decisions at the school. There was no vote on that idea.

Ferebee did not specify a timeline for naming leaders at George Washington and Northwest.

“These are schools that have been struggling,” he said. “It may be that the same individuals will surface. We’re going to do our due diligence. We’d rather take our time and get it right.”

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