Roll call!

Why some Tennessee students skipped school for ‘A Day Without Immigrants’

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Students mill outside of Kingsbury High School in this 2016 photo. Kingsbury serves a significant number of immigrant students in Memphis, and many participated Thursday in nationwide protests to highlight what “A Day Without Immigrants" is like.

Daniel Casas said he stayed home from school Thursday to show Memphis what life would be like without immigrants.

A senior at Kingsbury High School, Casas was among hundreds of students across Tennessee who joined “A Day Without Immigrants,” a nationwide boycott organized in response to President Trump’s crackdown on immigration. His family and many of his friends participated too.

“We want to show that we make a difference,” said Casas, who was born in Mexico and has lived in Memphis for 17 years. “We contribute to society; we run stores and shops; we fill classrooms with students who want to work hard.”

Daniel Casas, right, with Kingsbury High School Principal Terry Ross

It’s uncertain how many students participated across Tennessee, as districts were still compiling their absentee reports on Thursday. But based on conversations with students and educators, the boycott was felt in numerous schools in Memphis and Nashville, which have growing populations of immigrant students.

At Kingsbury, there were reports that about half of the student body stayed home.

The protest was also felt at Aurora College Academy, where about 30 percent of the Memphis charter school’s 275 students were absent.

“We knew there were rumblings of this, but to be missing this many students is a surprise for us,” said Principal Grant Monda, whose school population is about half Hispanic. “We’re close to a 96 percent attendance rate for any given day.”

Knowledge Academies High School, located in Nashville’s Antioch community, recorded absences for about half of its 200 students, though the impact was felt more in some classes than others. “We have one science class that usually has 20 students, but today it only had five,” said Martel Graham, director of the charter school.

Across America, the boycott’s effect was also visible at construction companies, restaurants and other businesses.

Some educators said they began hearing earlier this week about #adaywithoutimmigrants and tried to prepare.

In Nashville, Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse emailed all principals on Wednesday to remind them of the district’s policy related to unexcused absences. The bottom line: While Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools understands the uncertainty and confusion being experienced by immigrant families, the best place for students to be is still in school. Absences due to the protests will not be excused.

“While we respect the democratic right to participate in peaceful protest, our responsibility as a school district is to ensure students are in school receiving a great education every day,” Narcisse wrote. “For that reason, all students and staff are expected to be in school throughout the day on Thursday so that teaching and learning can continue.”

Officials with Shelby County Schools declined to comment on communications to their schools or how the Memphis district was handling the absences.

Graham said Nashville’s Knowledge Academies sent emails and robocalls to staff and students’ families in advance of the protest.

“We told them we will be here to educate any students who come into the building. If you don’t come to school, it will be counted as an absence and students are expected to make up their work,” Graham said.

While the boycott was scheduled for a single day, the event will continue to be part of the conversation about what immigrant students are going through in America. At Aurora Collegiate in Memphis, the principal plans to use a school-wide staff meeting on Friday to “talk about the importance of what today represented for a significant portion of our student population.”

“We want to have conversations with our students that make them feel safe and assure them that we will keep learning here regardless of whatever policies are created on a state or federal level,” Monday said. “We want them to know they are safe here.”

Casas, 18, said he hopes his absence Thursday was noticed — and that his school and district will be more vocal in supporting immigrants as a result.

“I hope that what comes from today’s protests is that the schools realize they can’t take us for granted,” he said, “and that they will listen to our voices.”


Salazar won’t run in governor’s race featuring strong education storylines

PHOTO: Denver Post File
Former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Ken Salazar’s decision not to run for Colorado governor takes one prominent Democrat out of a still-developing campaign that promises to prominently feature public education as an issue.

The former U.S. senator and interior secretary cited family reasons for his decision to sit out the 2018 Democratic primary. Salazar, who is closely involved in raising a granddaughter who has autism, could have been a voice on public education for children with disabilities.

In a Denver Post commentary explaining why isn’t running, Salazar took a broad view of the challenges in education.

“Colorado’s education crisis needs to be solved from pre-kindergarten to college,” Salazar wrote. “It is sad that Colorado has defunded higher education and abandoned the great tradition of leading the nation with our great colleges and universities.”

Salazar’s announcement could set other plans in motion quickly in the Democratic field.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a prominent education reformer, and entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, CEO of Intertech Plastics, have already announced they are running.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada told the Denver Post on Thursday the “chances are very good” he will run, and could declare his candidacy soon.

Former state treasurer Cary Kennedy said she is seriously considering running, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder said he has not ruled it out, according to the Post.

Among the Republicans mulling a run: District Attorney George Brauchler, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

how's it going?

She’s no Tony Bennett or Glenda Ritz — Jennifer McCormick is charting her own course as Indiana’s schools chief

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

For years, Indiana’s state superintendents have made huge political waves while in office.

Tony Bennett was a major Republican proponent of choice-based education reform. Democrat Glenda Ritz led an administration filled with political clashes with then-Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch conservative.

But this could be changing with Indiana’s newest schools chief, Jennifer McCormick.

More than two months into her administration and more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, educators and advocates are praising McCormick’s focus and remain optimistic about her tenure.

“The general perception is people are finding her and her staff are good to work with,” said Betsy Wiley, head of the Indiana Institute for Quality Education, a local school reform organization that made large donations to McCormick’s campaign. “I think she’s been working really hard on making sure people know that her door is open.”

As a Republican official taking office under a Republican governor, McCormick is better positioned politically to accomplish her goals. Her relationship with Gov. Eric Holcomb has appeared relatively tension-free so far. They’ve made joint announcements about state initiatives related to STEM education and workforce development, and McCormick has been on-board with his budget proposal.

McCormick said that so far, there has been lots of talking.

“We’re not always going to agree, but at least the conversations are happening,” she said. “We have our hands and eyes and voice in a lot of the education bills that we’re concerned about, so we’ve been right there at the table offering amendments” to legislators.

But mostly, McCormick has been quiet when it comes to public state policy debates.

“I think she’s learning the ropes, and rightly so,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said. “She and her team are working closely with the state board, so I consider it very good — No controversy of any kind.”

Yet McCormick’s approach doesn’t sit as well with Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. He said he’s worried she’s leaving too much power to top GOP lawmakers in charge of education and not taking enough initiative at the department of education.

“I’m not familiar with any of the work that she’s doing,” he said. “The work that is happening on education is happening in the House and Senate chambers … If it’s her aim to just be ‘go along, get along, whatever Rep. Behning says or Sen. Kruse says is A-OK,’ I don’t know that she’s going to have a major role to play.”

Bosma and Pelath’s difference in opinion reflects some of the debates occurring in the Indiana General Assembly this year about whether to make the state superintendent an appointed or elected position. Part of the conversation inevitably centers around how people view McCormick’s role and it’s purpose.

It’s not clear yet if McCormick will step forward with ideas of her own or be more of an administrator who solely implements the policies of lawmakers, which GOP leaders repeatedly. But she has supported Gov. Eric Holcomb’s plan to make the role an appointed one.

McCormick has testified once this year before the Indiana Senate. During that hearing last week, she expressed concerns about testing and teacher evaluation that routinely were dismissed when Ritz was in charge, such as advocating for “computer-adaptive” tests. She also told senators there should be more conversations about how test scores are tied into teacher evaluations and whether that provision should be removed.

McCormick isn’t — and never has been — in lockstep with other Republicans on education policy. That was clear during her campaign, when, despite having mostly school choice advocates and Republicans as donors, she disagreed with GOP policies and instead advocated for changes to the school funding formula and seriously evaluating the impact of state-funded vouchers for private school.

Wiley said that although McCormick hasn’t shown herself to be an aggressive supporter of all school choice policies, such as vouchers, Wiley still thinks her organization made a good investment in backing her.

“She knows she has at least four years in that role, and she intends to do and get stuff done,” Wiley said. “If she doesn’t get credit for it along the way, I just don’t think she cares.”

Todd Bess, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Principals, said he’s heard from school leaders that they’re seeing more timely responses to phone calls and emails with the department of education.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she’s appreciated the time McCormick has made to talk with ISTA members, and she has no reason to believe she’s not going to support public schools — she’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Despite accusations during her campaign that she’d be too much like her Republican predecessor, Bennett, McCormick has not aligned herself with one particular education philosophy or camp. David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, said that independence is admirable.

“She is clearly her own woman, and I think there were some expectations,” Harris said. “She has been pretty clear that she’s going to follow the agenda and approach that she thinks is best.”