new venture

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, former top Denver schools administrator, launches new consulting firm

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, former chief academic and innovation officer for Denver Public Schools.

A former top Denver Public Schools administrator who left the district earlier this year is teaming up with the former CEO of an East Coast charter school network to start a consulting firm.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust was DPS’s chief academic and innovation officer until January. Before serving as a district administrator, she was the founding principal of Highline Academy, a successful DPS charter school that opened in 2004. And before that, she worked as a consultant, helping to start more than 15 charter schools across the country.

In announcing her departure from DPS, Whitehead-Bust said she concluded the district had “a lot of good work underway” that she trusted would continue.

“It inspires me to want to go make a difference in a new system,” she said last December. She has been mentioned as a possible candidate for open superintendent jobs around the country.

Whitehead-Bust, who still lives in Denver with her family, said that since leaving DPS, she has worked with districts including Boston Public Schools, Tulsa Public Schools and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

She said she’s also worked with organizations such as the Washington-based Center on Reinventing Public Education and charter management organizations such as Aspire Public Schools, which has schools in California and Tennessee.

Her partner in her newest venture is Evan Rudall, a former teacher and charter school founder who subsequently served as CEO of the Uncommon Schools charter network, which has schools in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. He was also the founding CEO of Zearn, a nonprofit that creates digital math lessons.

In her time at DPS, Whitehead-Bust led the team that authorizes the district’s charter and innovation schools. Her team had several other duties as well, including designing and choosing curriculum and tests used by DPS schools, and putting in place training for teachers. She also created the Imaginarium, DPS’s research and development lab.

Movers & Shakers

Meet the Colorado education researcher you can actually understand

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Have you ever wandered into a thicket of education research terminology and wished you had a translator? Someone who could put “effect size” and “causal inference” into perspective? Or just English?

Kevin Welner’s your man.

On Monday, the Boulder professor was recognized with the 2017 American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Public Communication of Education Research Award.

Welner, who has been featured in the Washington Post and on NPR, shared a few tips with Chalkbeat.

Education research can be complicated and mind-numbing. What’s your secret to communicating so the general public can understand it?

My personal “secret” is just a lot of editing and rewriting, sharing drafts with friends and colleagues and seeking to squeeze out the academese.

But more important is the secret underlying the National Education Policy Center, which I direct and which is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education: We have a ready pool of hundreds of top researchers from around the country.

So if we need someone who can make sense of a research study with methods that are mind-numbingly complicated, we can quickly reach out to any of a dozen brilliant minds, all trained to fully understand those methods. If we need an expert who knows all the research on early-childhood education, class-size reduction or charter schools, we can do the same. We then work with those experts to engage in the editing process I noted above for myself – all geared toward ensuring that the published version is useful for academics as well as the general public.

What advice would you give to other academics and policy wonks ?

In the graduate programs where we receive our Ph.D. training, we learn almost nothing (or literally nothing) about how to communicate our research to a broader audience. Instead, our training focuses on preparing researchers to add to the scholarly knowledge base. We do that through academic journals, books, conferences, etc.

We designed the National Education Policy Center to help close that gap — to facilitate communications between the scholarly conversation and the conversation that everyone else is having, often about the same issues.

My advice to researchers would be to embrace opportunities to speak to a larger audience, even if it means stepping out of our comfort zones. The truth is that we’ve already found an enormous readiness to do so. Notwithstanding our training, and even the incentive systems that reward university-based researchers for more traditional work, we have seen a strong interest in this work, generally known as “public scholarship.”

You’ve critiqued influential news organizations, including U.S. News and World Report about their rankings of the nation’s best high schools. Why is it important to raise public questions about such things?

At best, each of us can only have real expertise in a very small number of areas. When a medical doctor or auto mechanic tells me something based on their expertise, I’m largely at their mercy. I often don’t know enough to even ask the right questions, let alone to have a B.S. detector for their answers.

What I and my colleagues at the National Education Policy Center have tried to do in the area of education research is to show the broader public a fuller picture. The U.S. News work I did, regarding high school rankings, is a good example. The rankings were undermined by technical problems, sloppiness, and fundamental problems involving choices about how and what to include in their measurement formulas. How would a parent who sees those rankings otherwise know about these weaknesses?

meet the new boss

Nikolai Vitti has been chosen to lead Detroit schools. Read the application that got him the job

PHOTO: Duval County Public Schools
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti meets with students on the first day of school in Duval County, Florida in 2016. He was selected in 2017 to lead Detroit schools.

In his job application to run Detroit schools, Florida superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote that he was motivated to apply by his “deep and unwavering belief in urban public education” and his “love” for the city of Detroit.

Vitti, who grew up in in Dearborn Heights but has spent his career working in North Carolina, New York and Florida, wrote that the success of the new Detroit school board “will rest upon its decision to select the right leader who has the vision, track record,experience, commitment, strength and perseverance for the job. I believe that I am that leader who is ready to collaboratively own the success of DPSCD’s future.”

He then lays out his qualifications in a 26-page application that spells out his experience in great detail, including specifics on the work he’s done as superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville since 2012 and in his previous jobs. Read the full application below.

The Detroit school board voted last week to negotiate a contract with Vitti, though those contract negotiations won’t start until at least this week due to a challenge from an activist who claims the search process was illegal.

Vitit beat out another finalist, River Rouge Superintendent Derrick Coleman for the job. To read Coleman’s application click here.