This time, they want it to be different.
One by one, more than a dozen residents told D.C. Council members Wednesday that they hope Lewis D. Ferebee — the mayor’s nominee to lead the city’s public schools — will succeed in ways his predecessors couldn’t.
They want their input to shape his decisions. They want someone who can improve the academic outcomes of the city’s low-income children. And as Ferebee enters an education system rocked by scandals — one of which cost the previous chancellor his job after a year at the helm — they want someone who can bring leadership stability to a system that sorely needs it.
“Now, he must not only listen to community concerns,” said Becky Reina, a parent of two children at Cleveland Elementary in Northwest Washington, “but also change his thinking and actions based on what he hears.”
More than 60 people attended the second of three public hearings leading up to the D.C. Council’s vote on the confirmation of Ferebee, who has been serving as acting chancellor of the 49,000-student system since Jan. 21. The forum attracted teachers, parents and activists.
Ferebee, who did not testify, sat in the audience. The message Wednesday night reflected concerns and advice that residents expressed during a public hearing last week at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington.
“I hope that Dr. Ferebee was listening closely and took to heart those recommendations,” said council member David Grosso (I-At Large), chair of the education committee, which hosted the forum.
Some residents said they were concerned about aspects of Ferebee’s record when he was superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools. That included dismantling the neighborhood high school system and turning over many of the city’s lowest-performing schools to charter operators while remaining part of the traditional system.
Most called on the council to thoroughly vet Ferebee, who will earn $280,000 a year if approved.
Others said they had hoped Amanda Alexander — a school system veteran who served as interim schools chancellor for nine months and was a finalist for the permanent job — would become chancellor but plan to rally behind Ferebee.
“Do we want to continue replacing our neighborhood schools with charters?” said Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union. “Or do we want to create neighborhoods schools where our students want to learn and our teachers want to teach?”
Olivia A. Chase, a grandparent raising a child who attends a D.C. school, said she was initially skeptical of Ferebee’s nomination, but said that since meeting him she believes he could be the right choice to lead D.C. Public Schools.
“I have already taken advantage of the many opportunities in which Dr. Ferebee has availed himself to our communities,” Chase said. “He has on each and every occasion made himself accessible and available to talk face to face and eye to eye.”
At times, speakers diverged from Ferebee and focused on the struggles that parents face in their schools and communities — problems they said they hoped the nominee could address.
Katy Thomas, the mother of two children at Miner Elementary in Northeast Washington, said the technology at her children’s school did not meet student needs. Keyboards are missing letters, and sometimes the computers are so slow it makes it hard to complete standardized tests. Parents throughout the city have expressed similar concerns about their children’s schools.
“While the mayor is working hard to attract technology jobs to D.C. and improve technology training programs for young adults, students in [D.C. Public Schools] facilities are trying to write essays or complete [standardized tests] on laptops with more than 10 missing keys, peeling screens and duct tape holding the device together,” Thomas said.
Although Ferebee is expected to be confirmed, council members insisted his fate remained to be determined.
“I’m still in the listening phase,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said.
“I’m still in the listening phase, too,” Grosso said.
Ferebee is expected to testify Tuesday before the council at city hall.
If the council does not vote by April 9, Ferebee’s nomination will automatically be approved.