help wanted

Jeffco superintendent opening to post with $300,000 as base pay

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee speaking to reporters last month (photo by Eric Gorski).

Jeffco school board members agreed to advertise a $300,000 base salary for the district’s next superintendent — an increase from what the current superintendent is now paid — on the same night they voted to close a school as part of nearly $11 million in budget cuts.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board accepted the salary recommendation of Ray and Associates, the firm hired to conduct the search for a new superintendent. The same firm was hired by the previous board to lead the search that resulted in the hiring of the current superintendent, Dan McMinimee.

In January, the board voted to open a search for a new Jeffco Public Schools superintendent while McMinimee, hired by a board majority that was recalled in 2015, had six months left on his contract. McMinimee continues to lead the district during the search for a potential replacement.

McMinimee, who was hired in the summer of 2014, has a base salary of $220,000 with up to an additional $40,000 in performance pay and another $20,000 in benefits. In October, the board approved giving McMinimee $20,000 of his $40,000 in potential performance pay dollars, bringing his year’s pay to $240,000 plus benefits.

Gary Ray, the president of Ray and Associates, presented salary estimates for superintendents of other similar districts across the country to suggest the $300,000 amount.

Among the examples cited were an estimated salary of $318,000 for the superintendent of Austin, Texas, schools, leading a district of about 85,000 students, and an estimated salary of $327,000 for the superintendent in Memphis, leading a district of about 110,000 students.

Ray said that because of the size of Jeffco, which enrolls more than 86,000 students, the board should consider national salaries, not just those of neighboring districts.

“I do think it’s important that you have a salary that’s competitive so it sends a message that you know what the market is,” Ray said.

He also assured the board that the final salary amount would be adjusted based on qualifications. When McMinimee was hired, the base salary had been estimated originally at $280,000. Before his final contract was signed, the board adjusted the amount, moving some money into benefits and performance pay.

Board member Brad Rupert said he liked the chance to adjust.

“I want to make sure we have a number out there that is sufficient to start the conversation with the best possible people,” Rupert said.

Susan Harmon agreed, making a point to say, “We’re not making a job offer, we’re just putting an advertisement out there.”

The board’s discussion Thursday did not require a vote, but was intended to direct the search firm as it launches the application process to find a superintendent.

The discussion happened during a work session before the regular meeting in which the board heard hours of public testimony and then wrestled with decisions on school closures and other budget cuts. McMinimee gave the board with an alternate proposal that scaled back the originally proposed cuts.

The cuts that did move forward Thursday totaled nearly $11 million and along with other savings, gave the district $19 million toward the $25 million district officials want to commit to raise salaries for district employees.

When the board voted last month to launch a search for a new superintendent instead of renewing McMinimee’s contract, which expires at the end of June, board members said they didn’t have problems with McMinimee’s performance.

They cited concerns with the process under which he was hired with a split vote after being named the sole finalist, and questioned if another person would be better at the job.

Ken Witt, who served as board president in 2014 when McMinimee was hired, said Friday those are “hollow and baseless accusations.”

“I’m very proud to say we did include the community, solicited feedback and we used a national search process,” said Witt, who was swept out of office along with two other conservative board members in the 2015 recall election. “I think we did exactly what was appropriate.”

So far, the process appears it will follow a similar path under the same firm.

An online survey is expected to launch Monday so the public can weigh in on which qualities are important for a Jeffco superintendent. An online survey was also conducted in 2014.

Members from the search firm also will meet with some community groups and host focus groups. Then, as the search firm narrows down a list of finalists, the board will get to interview candidates. Ray reiterated what district staff had previously told the board — that candidates need privacy and it may not be possible to publicly name more than one finalist.

Achievement School District

Tennessee’s turnaround district gets new leadership team for a new era

PHOTO: TN.gov
Malika Anderson became superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District in 2016 under the leadership of Gov. Bill Haslam.

Tennessee is bringing in some new blood to lead its turnaround district after cutting its workforce almost in half and repositioning the model as an intervention of last resort for the state’s chronically struggling schools.

While Malika Anderson remains as superintendent of the Achievement School District, she’ll have two lieutenants who are new to the ASD’s mostly charter-based turnaround district, as well as two others who have been part of the work in the years since its 2011 launch.

The hires stand in contrast to the original ASD leadership team, which was heavy with education reformers who came from outside of Tennessee or Memphis. And that’s intentional, Anderson said Friday as she announced the new lineup with Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“It is critical in this phase of the ASD that we are learning from the past … and have leaders who are deeply experienced in Tennessee,” Anderson said.

New to her inner circle as of Aug. 1 are:

Verna Ruffin
Chief academic officer

PHOTO: Submitted
Verna Ruffin

Duties: She’ll assume oversight of the district’s five direct-run schools in Memphis called Achievement Schools, a role previously filled by former executive director Tim Ware, who did not reapply. She’ll also promote collaboration across Achievement Schools and the ASD’s charter schools.

Last job: Superintendent of Jackson-Madison County School District since 2013

Her story: More than 30 years of experience in education as a teacher, principal, director of secondary curriculum, assistant superintendent and superintendent in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. At Jackson-Madison County, Ruffin oversaw a diverse student body and implemented a K-3 literacy initiative to promote more rigorous standards.

Farae Wolfe
Executive director of operations

Duties: Human resources, technology and operations

Current job: Program director for the Community Youth Career Development Center in Cleveland, Miss.

Her story: Wolfe has been city manager and human resources director for Cleveland, Miss., where she led a health and wellness initiative that decreased employee absenteeism due to minor illness by 20 percent. Her work experience in education includes overseeing parent and community relations for a Mississippi school district, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Leaders continuing to work with the state turnaround team are:

Lisa Settle
Chief performance officer

PHOTO: Achievement Schools
Lisa Settle

Duties: She’ll oversee federal and state compliance for charter operators and direct-run schools.

Last job: Chief of schools for the direct-run Achievement Schools since June 2015

Her story: Settle was co-founder and principal of Cornerstone Prep-Lester Campus, the first charter school approved by the ASD in Memphis. She also has experience in writing and reviewing curriculum in her work with the state’s recent Standards Review Committee.

Bobby White
Executive director of external affairs

PHOTO: ASD
Bobby White

Duties: He’ll continue his work to bolster the ASD’s community relations, which was fractured by the state’s takeover of neighborhood schools in Memphis when he came aboard in April 2016.

Last job: ASD chief of external affairs

His story: A Memphis native, White previously served as chief of staff and senior adviser for Memphis and Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton, as well as a district director for former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

A new team for a new era

The restructuring of the ASD and its leadership team comes after state officials decided to merge the ASD with support staff for its Achievement Schools. All 59 employees were invited in May to reapply for 30 jobs, some of which are still being filled.

The downsizing was necessary as the state ran out of money from the federal Race to the Top grant that jump-started the turnaround district in 2011 and has sustained most of its work while growing to 33 schools at its peak.

While the changes signal a new era for the state-run district, both McQueen and Gov. Bill Haslam have said they’re committed to keeping the ASD as Tennessee’s most intensive intervention when local and collaborative turnaround efforts fail, even as the initiative has had a mostly lackluster performance.

“Overall, this new structure will allow the ASD to move forward more efficiently,” McQueen said Friday, “and better positions the ASD to support the school improvement work we have outlined in our ESSA plan …”

In the next phase, school takeovers will not be as abrupt as the first ones that happened in Memphis in 2012, prompting angry protests from teachers and parents and outcry from local officials. Local districts will have three years to use their own turnaround methods before schools can be considered for takeover.

It’s uncertain where the ASD will expand next, but state officials have told Hamilton County leaders that it’s one of several options on the table for five low-performing schools in Chattanooga.

promoting choice

Betsy DeVos defends vouchers and slams AFT in her speech to conservatives

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rallied a conservative crowd in Denver on Thursday, criticizing teachers unions and local protesters and defending private-school vouchers as a way to help disadvantaged students.

“Our opponents, the defenders of the status quo, only protest those capable of implementing real change,” DeVos told members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that helps shape legislative policy across the country. “You represent real change.”

DeVos delivered the keynote speech at the ALEC meeting, where she reiterated her support for local control of schools and school choice. Citing the conservative former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she said education should be about individual students and families, not school systems.

“Lady Thatcher regretted that too many seem to blame all their problems on society. But, ‘who is society?’” DeVos asked, quoting Thatcher. “‘There is no such thing!’”

The American Federation of Teachers, she said, has exactly the opposite idea.

“Parents have seen that defenders of the status quo don’t have their kids’ interests at heart,” she said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten threw punches of her own Thursday, calling private school vouchers “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation” in a Washington, D.C. speech.

DeVos highlighted states that have introduced vouchers or new school-choice programs including North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona. Indiana — home to the nation’s largest voucher program — also won praise.

Data from existing voucher programs may have sparked the one critical question DeVos faced, during a brief sit-down after her speech. Legislators want to know how to respond to complaints that voucher programs only help wealthy families, the moderator, an Arizona lawmaker, told DeVos.

In Indiana, for instance, vouchers are increasingly popular in wealthy school districts and among families whose students had not previously attended public school.

“I just dismiss that as a patently false argument,” DeVos said. “Wealthy people already have choice. They’re making choices every day, every year, by moving somewhere where they determine the schools are right for their children or by paying tuition if they haven’t moved somewhere.”

Earlier this year, DeVos criticized Denver as not offering enough school choice because Colorado does not have private school vouchers. Still, presenters at the conference Thursday introduced Denver to ALEC members — conservative legislators, business leaders and lobbyists — as “living proof” that charter schools and competition work.

A local Denver school board candidate, Tay Anderson, and state union leaders held a protest Wednesday ahead of DeVos’s speech. Attendees said they were concerned that ALEC’s efforts, and DeVos’s focus on vouchers and school choice, would hurt public schools.

DeVos didn’t make mention of Denver or Colorado in her speech Thursday, but she briefly referenced the protest.

“I consider the excitement a badge of honor, and so should you,” she said.