A la Bloomberg, entrepreneur Jack Hidary exploring mayoral bid

A screenshot from Jack Hidary’s blog shows him with then-Chancellor Joel Klein at East Side Community High School in 2010 during the kickoff of National Lab Day, a science program he launched. Hidary is exploring the possibility of running for mayor as an independent.

A wealthy tech entrepreneur with a passion for education and a background that resembles Mayor Bloomberg’s is positioning himself to enter New York City’s mayor’s race.

Jack Hidary filed papers this week with the city’s Campaign Finance Board signaling an intention to receive city matching funds in a political campaign. He has also formed a political action committee, Hidary for NYC Inc, and someone registered the URL HidaryforNYC.com just days ago.

Hidary intends to run for mayor as an independent, according to three sources with knowledge of the bid. His entry would shake up a political race in which Bloomberg’s staunchest supporters have found few inspiring candidates.

Stu Loeser, who resigned as Bloomberg’s press secretary last year and now works as an independent consultant, has advised Hidary about his bid, according to a source.

Loeser distanced himself from Hidary today. “I’ve offered my ideas to several candidates running for mayor and several have taken me up on them,” he said. “Jack is a great person, but I am not working for him.”

Still, Hidary’s passions for business development, education reform, and the technology sector would make him an attractive candidate for people who believe Bloomberg has been a strong leader for New York City.

“Jack represents new ideas and new technology — these are the frontiers of the economy and what NYC needs to excel in to create jobs, improve education, and manage the city in a complex world,” said Nova Spivack, a former business partner who has known Hidary for nearly two decades. “Jack also cares deeply about education, the environment and job growth. I think he has the right combination of innovation and concern for the little guy that NYC needs. Where other candidates represent big money, Jack is an independent who believes in the best ideas, regardless of whose ideas they are.”

Hidary, who comes from Brooklyn’s wealthy Sephardic Jewish community, has a biography that bears several similarities to Bloomberg’s. A serial entrepreneur, his first major venture was the technology company EarthWeb/Dice, which offers job postings for the information technology industry.

He currently heads a sustainable energy technology company, Samba Energy. He has made hybrid taxis a pet issue, founding a nonprofit called Smart Transportation to lobby the City Council to allow them.

He is also a philanthropist. According to the website of his foundation, called the Jack D. Hidary Foundation, begun in 2001, his philanthropy aims “to catalyze scalable, self-sustaining programs in clean energy and economic development.”

And like the mayor, he has ideas about how education should be delivered. One of his foundation’s investments is in the National Lab Network, a project that aims to connect scientists and teachers.

“The interactions I’ve had around education ideas with him have been very thoughtful,” said Mark Federman, principal of East Side Community High School, where Hidary kicked off the network in 2010 with then-Chancellor Joel Klein. “He was reflective and interested in what’s happening and listening to what schools are doing. I thought he was very respectful in wanting to hear from educators and trying to find out what’s working and what’s not and why.”

Hidary’s internet profile is rudimentary at this point, including a lightly designed and irregularly updated blog and a website for his foundation. One entry on his Typepad blog dated July 10, 2012, is titled “Disrupting the Education System.

“Hi Typepad,” it begins. “How are you? I hope your summer is off to a good start.” Then the post links to an article he published on the Huffington Post about new online platforms that could change education. The entries all focus on education technology companies, including Khan Academy and Coursera.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.