texas hold 'em

Controversial Douglas County superintendent to lead Texas school district

PHOTO: Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post
Douglas County School District Superintendent Liz Fagen.

Douglas County School District Superintendent Liz Fagen, who put in place a controversial market-based pay system for teachers and a voucher program that drew national attention and legal challenges, is leaving to lead a Texas school district.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Douglas County district officials announced that Fagen had been named the sole finalist to take over the 39,000-student Humble Independent School District in Humble, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Fagen was tapped to head the 67,000-student Douglas County district in 2010. She was hired after a conservative takeover of the school board in the traditionally high-performing, affluent south suburban school district.

But the politics in Douglas County have shifted. The November election spelled the end of what had been a run of conservative domination. The board is still in conservative control, but by the narrowest of margins. Three upstart candidates who opposed the reforms championed by Fagen’s administration won seats in the election, resulting in a 4-3 board split.

Since the election, the district has been embroiled in a controversy over a student protester’s secret tape-recording of a meeting with board majority members, which had led to accusations of intimidation and calls for the board members to resign.

An attempt to revive the district’s controversial voucher program, meantime, has resulted in two legal challenges.

Fagen’s moves have drawn praise from conservative education reform advocates and criticism from supporters of the teachers union and a vocal band of parents.

The district did show gains under Fagen, boosting its high school graduation rate to 88 percent, for example. And in 2014, the district received the state’s highest accreditation rating. But the district recently refunded the state $2 million after the state found some students didn’t meet state requirements for full-time funding.

“The Douglas County School District is truly an excellent school district – one that is a lighthouse in American education,” Fagen said in a statement. “I am proud of all that we have accomplished over the past six years together. I know that our teachers, leaders and support staff will continue to amaze. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with the talented students and staff in this district.”

Douglas County school board president Meghann Silverthorn in a statement thanked Fagen for her service and said the district would turn its attention to a transition plan. No details were given.

The Douglas County Federation of Teachers, the county’s teachers union, used Fagen’s announcement to pivot to the next school board election, in 2017.

“Although we believe that this is a positive step towards reclaiming public education in Douglas County, we also realize that Dr. Fagen acted in concert with the school board that directed her,” said Kallie Leyba, the union’s president. “And, until a majority of board members are elected who support public education and who will treat teachers and staff as the professionals they are, there will be no significant change in the direction of the district.”

The Humble school district is Texas’ 31st largest school district. Douglas County is Colorado’s third largest.

 

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.