Two finalists to lead the District’s public schools emerged Saturday after a six-month search for a chancellor, according to people with knowledge of the process: Amanda Alexander, the interim D.C. chancellor, and Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis D. Ferebee.
In Alexander, the city would have a 20-year veteran of the school system who has built a team of deputies during her nine-month tenure as interim chancellor of the 49,000-student system. Ferebee is a high-profile figure in the education world who has led the Indianapolis schools since 2013, building relationships with the traditional school system and the charter sector. He was a finalist to lead the Los Angeles school district but withdrew from consideration in April.
The names emerged following a last-minute meeting of the committee advising Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on the selection of a schools chancellor Saturday. The panel questioned the finalists in a private meeting, according to the mayor’s office. That session lasted for about 2½ hours.
The mayor’s office declined to confirm the identities of the finalists but issued a statement about Saturday’s meeting.
“The Our Schools DC Leadership Committee had the opportunity to engage with the finalists in order to provide feedback to the Mayor before she makes her final decision,” the mayor’s office said.
Alexander and Ferebee did not respond to calls seeking comment.
It was unclear Saturday night when a decision on a chancellor will be made.
During the public portion of Saturday’s meeting, an aide to Bowser told members of the panel that more than 40 people had expressed interest in running the District’s school system.
Steve Walker, director of the Mayor’s Office of Talent and Appointments, said superintendents, deputy superintendents, federal government workers and employees of universities throughout the country contacted the District about the opening.
“That’s the profile of the people who expressed interest,” Walker said.
Walker said the city determined 20 of the 40 people were capable of leading the school system. The city then whittled the list to eight candidates in November. Aspirants included business and community leaders.
Walker did not reveal the names of the applicants.
The public portion of the meeting at the Old Council Chambers lasted less than 15 minutes. From there, the 15 panelists in attendance met with Walker and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn behind closed doors, where they had been expected to review résumés of the finalists.
By law, the mayor is required to convene the panel and provide members with the résumés of candidates that she is considering for the job. The mayor is under pressure from activists and members of the D.C. Council to follow the law and have a transparent process.
The chancellor position — one of the mayor’s most politically consequential appointments — has been vacant since Antwan Wilson resigned in February amid controversy after a little more than a year on the job. Wilson skirted school system rules to get one of his children a spot in a heralded high school.
Alexander has said she hopes to deploy more central-office employees to work in the schools. This, she said, could give struggling schools resources they need to close the persistent achievement gap between students from low-income families and those from more affluent ones.
“I’ve stayed pretty true to myself and my core beliefs in this interim chancellor role,” Alexander said in November. “If I were to have the privilege of serving as permanent chancellor, I would definitely put more time and energy into aligning the work of central office to what schools need on the ground.”
Alexander had applied to replace Kaya Henderson when she left the chancellor’s post in 2016.
Alexander started her career in 1998 as a kindergarten teacher in the District. She left for New York for two years before returning to the nation’s capital, where she served as principal of Bunker Hill and Ross elementary schools. At Ross, test scores rose dramatically under her watch.
In 2013, Alexander was tapped by Henderson to serve as deputy chief of schools and rose to chief of elementary schools a few years later. In her most recent role, she oversaw the city’s elementary schools and supervised six instructional superintendents who managed and mentored the lower school principals.
According to information on the website of the Indianapolis school system, Ferebee previously served in positions in the Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, including as regional superintendent. He also was a principal and assistant principal in North Carolina.
The Indianapolis website shows that Ferebee has an earlier connection to the District: He received a master’s degree in school administration from George Washington University.
When Ferebee withdrew from consideration for the Los Angeles schools job, he released a statement, according to the Indianapolis Star.
“Recently, I was announced as one of the finalists for the Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent position,” Ferebee said in April. “After further discussing this endeavor with my family, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners, and those handling the search process, I have withdrawn my name from consideration. It was an honor to have been considered for an opportunity of this magnitude.”