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.

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.