moving on

Former Jeffco superintendent lands new job as leader of charter network

PHOTO: Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post
JeffCo Public Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee, at his office, in 2014 during his second week on the job.

Former Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee has been named head of a growing charter school network catering to immigrant and at-risk students.

McMinimee will start work for New America Schools in May “in an advisory superintendent capacity working as necessary on transitional activities,” according to the network’s announcement Tuesday.

He will officially take the superintendent role — the top job in the organization — on July 1, after his contract with Jeffco ends. McMinimee will replace Dominic DiFelice, who is retiring.

“It’s a great opportunity for me professionally,” McMinimee said.

The Jeffco school board voted in January to launch a search for a new superintendent while McMinimee still had six months left on his contract, signaling his tenure was coming to an end.

McMinimee and the board then reached a new agreement taking him out of the superintendent’s role but keeping him on the payroll in an advisory role through the end of June. Terminating the contract early would have required the district to pay McMinimee a full year’s salary.

The New America Schools network was founded in 2004 by millionaire entrepreneur Jared Polis of Boulder, now a Democratic U.S. congressman. The New America Schools charter network runs three high schools in Colorado serving more than 1,100 students, of which 80 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The network also has two schools in New Mexico.

The schools are designated as alternative education campuses — or schools that are evaluated differently because they have a unique purpose and serve a challenging population, including students who may have dropped out of traditional schools. The network advertises its schools as specializing in serving immigrant students and those still learning English.

The Colorado schools have performed poorly in state evaluations. One of the campuses, in Thornton, could face state sanctions next year if it doesn’t show improvement.

“There’s no question there are some challenges,” McMinimee said. “But actually that’s one of the things that intrigued me to come in and help with.”

The Jeffco job was McMinimee’s first as a superintendent when he took the position three years ago. Before that, McMinimee worked in Douglas County School District as assistant superintendent for secondary education.

Speaking Out

Students demand a say in New York City’s school integration plans

PHOTO: Joe Amon/Denver Post

New York City students will rally on the steps of City Hall on Saturday afternoon, calling for action to integrate schools and demanding that students have a voice in the process.

“Young people all around the city are asking for more equitable public schools — schools that enroll a student population that reflects our city diversity and schools that have both the proper resources and support,” according to a statement released by the students.

The demonstration is being organized by IntegrateNYC4Me, a citywide student-led group, with support from Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters, New York Appleseed, and Councilman Brad Lander’s office.

New York City’s schools are notoriously segregated. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the education department have promised to release a “bigger vision” plan by June to address the problem. But the details have largely been kept secret, and desegregation advocates have called for the public to have a role in drafting the proposal.

Now, students are also demanding a say.

“We hope that we will call attention to the necessity of including student voices in the creation of the policies that will affect us the most,” according to the group’s statement.

The rally will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, click here. To follow on social media, search for #WhyIMarch and #IntegrateNYC4Me.

Dealing with discipline

Former Newark schools chief Cami Anderson’s new mission: getting schools to rethink student discipline

PHOTO: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Cami Anderson when she was superintendent of schools in Newark, New Jersey.

After a rocky tenure as superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, Cami Anderson is now working with charter networks and school districts to reform school discipline, she told Chalkbeat.

Called the Discipline Revolution Project, Anderson’s new initiative aims to help schools reduce suspensions and move away from exclusionary discipline practices.

“There’s an increasing awareness in the reform community, charter and district, that our punitive approach to discipline is very costly to some kids, but there’s not enough talk about what we’re moving towards,” she said in an interview at the New Schools Venture Fund summit. “There’s too much talk about what we’re moving away from.”

Anderson is the former Newark schools superintendent who was appointed in 2011 just as the district received a highly publicized $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Her work in Newark, especially a plan to close a number of the district’s schools, made her a lightning rod for controversy until she resigned under pressure in 2015.

Her new focus on school discipline comes as charter schools have faced pressure to reduce their suspension rates, particularly so-called “no excuses” charters, which often produce high test scores and use a strict disciplinary approach.

Anderson sees an opportunity to get schools to change their practices and wants to ensure discussion translates into action.

“It seems like a conversation is happening … and it’s an important opportunity,” she said. “I want to make sure it’s filled with content. My big fear is that it will stay as a philosophical [one].”

Anderson convened a group of leaders last week from charter networks and school districts, including from Denver Public Schools, Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District and charter networks such as Uncommon Schools and Summit Public Schools.

Specifically, Anderson is hoping to offer tools for leaders interested in improving discipline practices, help schools use discipline data more effectively, and facilitate discussions among school and district leaders.

Charter schools, like traditional public schools, are dramatically more likely to suspend black students and students with disabilities. Advocates argue that exclusionary discipline hurts students and feeds a “school-to-prison” pipeline. This has caused a number of school districts and some charter school leaders to vow to reduce suspensions and emphasize alternatives like restorative justice.

Others within the charter movement have pushed back, including Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz.

“Lax discipline won’t strike a blow for civil rights,” Moskowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Instead it will perpetuate the real civil-rights violation — the woeful failure to educate the vast majority of the city’s minority children and prepare them for life’s challenges.”

Anderson says she’s not saying suspensions should be eliminated altogether, but that schools should put a greater emphasis on preventing student misbehavior in the first place. She also argues that suspensions are simply an ineffective way to address misbehavior.

“Students have to be accountable for their behavior. They just need to be accountable in a way that that they’re going to learn from it,” Anderson said. “Putting them out is almost never the way for that to happen.”

Indeed, there is little evidence that exclusionary discipline has its intended impact, though there is also limited rigorous research on the efficacy of alternatives.

After leaving Newark, Anderson started her own education consulting firm and has worked with charter schools on improving their services for students with disabilities. Anderson said she doesn’t know yet whether her school-discipline initiative will grow into a standalone organization. Last week’s convening, essentially the project’s launch, was funded by the New Schools Venture Fund and the Walton Foundation. (Walton is also a supporter of Chalkbeat.)

“Part of it is going to be responding to what people say they got out of it and what they want moving forward,” she said.