elsewhere

Manager-educator pairings: A look at three other cities

New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner may allow publishing executive Cathleen Black to become the next schools chancellor on one condition: Mayor Bloomberg appoints a Chief Academic Officer.

Steiner’s suggestion has met with mixed reviews, but a look at other cities with non-educator school leaders shows that the arrangement is not uncommon.

Chicago

In Chicago, whether the schools Chief Executive Officer has a Chief Academic Officer is not up to the mayor or the schools CEO — it’s in the law.

In 1995, when the Illinois state legislature gave Chicago mayoral control of schools, the law also created the position of chief education officer. Styled after corporate boards, the school system’s administration was to be led by a chief executive officer, who did not have to have a background and education, and four other officers, one of whom would be an education expert. The law says:

The chief executive officer shall appoint, with the approval of the Trustees, a chief operating officer, a chief fiscal officer, a chief educational officer, and a chief purchasing officer to serve until June 30, 1999. These officers shall be assigned duties and responsibilities by the chief executive officer.

Unlike in New York, where the chancellor can decide the titles and job descriptions of his (it’s always been a “he”) deputies, these positions are cemented in the law in Chicago. Chicago’s CEO can change the responsibilities that fall under each officer, but the city is legally required to have an educational expert. Since 2001, the city has had two CEOs without much teaching experience and one chief education officer: Barbara Eason-Watkins. She resigned in April and without her in place, some principals say they feel directionless.

San Diego

Members of San Diego’s school board did not making hiring a chief academic officer the condition for bringing in Superintendent Bill Kowba, but they did make it clear that they wanted him to hire one. A piece in Voice of San Diego about the appointment of Nellie Meyer, deputy superintendent for academics, states:

Board members have repeatedly said he would need a strong deputy superintendent to offset his lack of school experience.

San Diego was the first city to have a non-educator superintendent, setting a precedent for the current arrangement. Former Superintendent Alan Bersin, who had worked the local U.S. Attorney, took charge of the schools in 1998 and appointed Tony Alvarado to oversee academics. Looking back, Bersin has said that he needed a co-leader with experience in education. Alvarado made his reputation by improving schools in New York City’s District 2. From an interview with PBS:

Smith: Not being an educator, did you need an educational partner?

Bersin: No question about that. I understood that I wasn’t about to teach teachers about reading and I needed to connect with an educational leader and someone who could educate our system as well as educate me. There was a period of three to four months beginning in March of 1998 when I was both U.S. Attorney and the superintendent designate. I used that opportunity to speak with many people around the country, get suggestions, and met with a couple of perspective candidates, and then found Tony Alvarado.

Detroit

The leadership structure in Detroit is an example of how appointing a chief academic officer as the number two to a schools leader can lead to turf wars with other education officials.

In 2009, Michigan’s governor brought in Robert Bobb, a former city manager, as the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit’s public schools. A month after his appointment, Bobb, who has no experience in education, named Barbara Byrd-Bennett to be his chief academic and accountability auditor. He put her in charge of revamping the schools’ curriculum and overseeing the hiring and firing of principals while he dealt with the deficit.

Yet Byrd-Bennett’s authority has been challenged by Detroit’s Board of Education, which appointed its own schools superintendent and insists that the board, not Bobb, controls academics. Bobb says that because he controls the schools’ finances, it’s his decision which academic programs get funding.

The turf war is even playing out on the district’s website, which highlights the names of the academic officers appointed by Bobb. The names of the Board of Education-appointed academic leaders are next to them in plain font.

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.