Longing for commitment

Jul. 03, 2013 @ 12:20 AM

For I. Lewis Ferebee, his selection Monday as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools was a rewarding announcement, and we congratulate him on a significant upward move in his career.

Certainly, we begrudge no one an opportunity to move ahead in his or her chosen field.  Ambition is a positive force, at its best driving people toward constant improvement, toward pushing themselves to be their best and to add value to the organizations they serve and the jobs they perform.

And in many ways, it is a compliment to an organization – be it a business, a governmental unit or a non-profit agency – that other organizations seek out their best talent.  If good work is rewarded, presumably others will be drawn to do good work.

So we are proud of Ferebee and acknowledge that his hard work as second-in-command to Superintendent Eric Becoats has been recognized. We wish him well in Indianapolis, where he will take on the top spot in a district comparable in size and urban challenges to Durham.

But we cannot help but be bemused by recent news of upward-mobility aspirations at the Fuller Building, Durham Public Schools’ downtown headquarters.

Just three months ago, Becoats flirted with – and was a finalist for – a position running the schools in Prince George's County, Md.  His withdrawal came only after the school system there decided to extend its search.

Becoats arrived here just over three years ago, and quickly brought in Ferebee. Three years strikes us as on the very low side of a reasonable tenure to run any school district, certainly one that faces the challenges of aggressive private and charter school competition, a student body increasingly on the low end of the socio-economic scale, and many schools that even with enormous focus in recent years barely escape the lowest performance labels.

Ambitious administrators with their eye on the next rung may bring a short-term burst of energy and innovation. But we can’t help but think that the road to long-term, continuous improvement in such a challenging district requires someone willing to settle in for the long haul.

Any community requires time to learn its unique personality and to forge relationships. Durham certainly is that way.

Staff, parents, community leaders – all stakeholders – profit by knowing that leadership that crafts a strategic vision will be committed to carrying it out.

Again, we hesitate to appear as if we want to hold back high-performing administrators with an eye on their future – and a sense of where they can best apply their talents and fulfill their dreams.

But as the superintendent looks to fill his number-two spot – and if, as seems possible, the Board of Education before too long must look to once again fill the top spot – it would be worthwhile to talk about commitment deep enough to build a strong school system over time.