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.

big gig

Former Denver schools administrator tapped to be D.C. schools chancellor

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Antwan Wilson when he was principal of Denver's Montbello High School.

Former Denver principal and assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson has been nominated to lead the high-profile Washington, D.C. school district.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” Wilson told the Washington Post. “It is the premier job leading a district in the entire country.”

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who nominated Wilson, praised him in a statement, referencing the fact that Wilson, 44, grew up in poverty.

“In his 20 plus years in education, Antwan Wilson has been a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent, and at every level, he has been successful,” she said. “Not only is he an experienced leader, Mr. Wilson is role model for our students. His success proves that with hard work, they can achieve what they set out to do.”

For the past two and a half years, Wilson has been superintendent of the Oakland, Calif. school district. Prior to that, he served for five years as assistant superintendent in Denver Public Schools, supervising DPS’ middle, high and alternative schools. He was previously an instructional superintendent in Denver and principal of the now-closed Montbello High School.

While in a leadership role in Denver, Wilson oversaw the turnaround of struggling Montbello High, which was shuttered and replaced with three smaller schools. He also helped with several other secondary-school initiatives.

“If you said five years ago ‘here’s what I’m going to do in Denver: cut the dropout rate in half, increase on time graduation rate by 20 points, and cut suspensions and expulsions by more than half,’ a lot of people would have said ‘be serious.’ He led those initiatives and he did it,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the East Bay Times in 2014.

Mike Vaughn, who was chief communications officer for DPS during part of Wilson’s tenure, remembers him as a champion for all students, regardless of their background.

“Everything he did was focused on getting every kid a chance to get through high school and do well,” Vaughn said Tuesday. A lot of people talk about educational equity, Vaughn said, but “Antwan talks about it, lives it, breathes it and acts on it. He’s an inspiring person.”

The D.C. Council will have to approve Wilson’s nomination, according to the mayor’s statement. Wilson is expected to start Feb. 1 with a salary of $280,000.

Wilson will face several challenges as head of D.C. schools, the Washington Post reported, including increasing test scores and graduation rates for black male students, narrowing achievement gaps between the gentrifying city’s poor and affluent children, and negotiating a new contract with the teachers union.

Movers and shakers

Colorado League of Charter Schools president Nora Flood leaving to lead new Walton Family Foundation program

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Nora Flood addresses an audience at a school board forum in Jefferson County.

The leader of the Colorado League of Charter Schools is leaving next year to help start a new program of the Walton Family Foundation, the league announced Friday.

Nora Flood has worked for the league for more than eight years and became president in 2013.

“I leave the organization humbled, honored, and excited to start a new chapter in my life,” Flood wrote in a letter to the organization’s schools and supporters. “I hope that you continue to support our team and the League’s ever-so-important work. And I look forward to seeing you all as we cross paths going forward.”

Flood said she felt comfortable leaving because of the strength of the association, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018.

“I believe that the League is in great hands with its talented staff and dedicated board,” she wrote. “The organization is incredibly healthy and sustainable.”

The league exists to support charter schools during their start-up phase, train school leaders and staff, and advocate for charters at the legislature. Charter schools are publicly funded but run independently.

Flood will become education director for the James Walton Fund, a program of the Walton Family Foundation. The foundation is among the largest proponents and fiscal supporters of charter schools in the nation. (The Walton Family Foundation is also a financial supporter of Chalkbeat).

In her new role, Flood will be responsible for identifying and growing successful nontraditional education models in the charter sector, especially the Montessori model, that encourages students to direct their learning.

Flood previously ran Montessori schools before joining the league. James Walton, an engineer who lives in the Denver area, has spent time volunteering at Montessori charters, and he previously started a Montessori teacher-training center.

The league’s board will begin a search for a new president after the Thanksgiving holiday.