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.

East Bound

To convert historic East High into T-STEM school, Hopson taps proven STEM principal

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Principal Lischa Brooks meets with parents during a 2016 open house at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy in Memphis.

In less than three years, Principal Lischa Brooks has led Maxine Smith STEAM Academy to become the go-to middle school for Memphis families seeking a rigorous academic program emphasizing science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

Now, Shelby County Schools is turning to the 20-year education veteran to transform one of its most iconic schools.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson announced this week that Brooks will become the new leader of East High School as it transitions to an optional T-STEM school, with an emphasis on transportation and STEM.

The move indicates the district’s commitment to East, a sprawling school in midtown Memphis that could have faced closure due to a gradual loss of students, poor performance on state tests, and the high cost of maintaining its 69-year-old building.

The founding principal of Maxine Smith, Brooks is a former classroom teacher and technology coordinator. She is also a graduate of East.

“Moving Principal Brooks to this new role will expand her reach to the high school level and continuing to ensure innovative STEM education across the 6th grade through 12th grade continuum,” Hopson said in a news release. “Her versatility and proven experience will ensure the new program at East is launched strategically and successfully.”

Maxine Smith opened as an all-optional middle school in the fall of 2014 in the building that housed Fairview Middle School before its closure earlier that year.

Under Brooks’ leadership, Maxine Smith’s test scores quickly rose to the top of the school system. It has become such a popular school that parents typically camp out on the district’s central office lawn every January to secure a spot for their children on the first day that optional school applications are accepted.

Fairview had served mostly black students from low-income families, but Maxine Smith looks very different. Last year, only about 16 percent of its study body was considered economically disadvantaged, compared to 59 percent for the district overall. It also had a 50-50 split of students who are white and of color. Districtwide, less than 8 percent of students are white.

The school that Brooks will take over this fall looks much more like Fairview than Maxine Smith, even as it transitions to an optional school.

In recent decades, East’s enrollment has decreased to 500 in a school built for 2,000. Its student body is mostly black, and about 70 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. Last year, East was identified in the state’s bottom 10 percent of schools academically, making it vulnerable to state intervention.

East High’s transition to an all-optional school will also be slower than at Maxine Smith. The T-STEM Academy will accept ninth-graders in the fall and phase in a grade each year, allowing current East students to continue there and eventually graduate.

Brooks will split her time between East and Maxine Smith for the remainder of this school year before moving full time to her alma mater this fall. Marilyn Hilliard, East’s current principal, will continue in a support role. Meanwhile, Maxine Smith will be led on an interim basis by its current assistant principal, Keith Booker.

“I am humbled and honored to accept this role and develop a curriculum continuum for our students,” Brooks said. “This will expand the work that we have begun at Maxine Smith STEAM Academy to include the T-STEM program at East High.”

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.