Transition

Former Indianapolis principal hired to overhaul Memphis charter school office

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management for Shelby County Schools, confers in 2016 with the district's charter overseers including Stacey Thompson and Charisse Sales. Leon will continue to supervise the office now headed by Daphnè Robinson.

Tennessee’s largest hub of charter schools has a new director who will build her team from the ground up, replacing the managers who have overseen the growing sector since its inception in Memphis in 2003.

Daphnè Robinson started this week with Shelby County Schools and will manage applications, renewals and evaluations for its 45 charter schools. She replaces Charisse Sales, who has led the office for more than a decade and will stay with the school system in another capacity.

Most recently, Robinson worked three years as a principal at an Indianapolis charter school, where since 2005 she held various positions including enrollment coordinator and director of counseling.

She is also the wife of Memphis Education Fund CEO Marcus Robinson, who joined the philanthropic collaborative last summer and has brought several colleagues with him from Tindley Accelerated Schools in Indianapolis, where his wife also worked. Formerly known as Teacher Town, the Memphis Education Fund invests in the city’s lowest-performing public schools through programs such as the district’s Innovation Zone.

The leadership change in the charter school office comes as Shelby County Schools seeks to overhaul its oversight of the sector in consultation with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Last year, the group affirmed the work of the three-person charter team but recommended hiring specialists and reorganizing the office as the district seeks to double its staffing.

In a statement this week, district leaders praised Sales and her team and dismissed concerns about the wholesale turnover.

“We are confident that with the institutional knowledge of Chief of Strategy and Performance Management Brad Leon (who has supervised the charter office since 2013), and under the leadership of Daphnè Robinson, the new staffing plan will help ensure we are able to align our work to national best practices,” the statement said.

Colleagues who worked with Robinson in Indianapolis said she’ll bring on-the-ground charter school experience to Memphis.

“She knows which systems that need to be in place for non-negotiables to have a high bar of excellence that become a control across the city,” said Memphis’ Gateway University school founder Sosepriala Dede, who was a Tindley vice principal when she was director of counseling there. “What they specialize in (at Tindley) is exactly what Memphis charter schools need.”

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.