State board members, education officials see an uncertain future after Neal’s resignation

The future of the Colorado State Board of Education and its department is unclear after chairwoman Marcia Neal resigned this morning, education officials and advocates said today. Even some of Neal’s board colleagues are scratching their heads.

“Truly, I have no idea,” said Angelika Schroeder, a Democrat and vice chair of the board.

In statements and interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, fellow board members and education leaders thanked Neal, a Republican, for her service. Some, like board member Debra Scheffel, rejected Neal’s accusations that the board has become dysfunctional. Others, like education reform advocate Van Schoales, worried that the board is heading toward more chaos.

A Republican Party vacancy committee in the 3rd Congressional District will choose Neal’s successor, likely by August. The board will also need to pick new leadership.

Here’s how fellow board members, education officials and leaders are responding to Neal’s resignation.

State board Vice Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, D-Boulder, said in an interview: 

I’m sad. She’s been a terrific board member. I think we’ve spent exactly the same about of time on the board and I’ll miss her very much. I have no idea [where the board goes from here]. Truly, I have no idea. There will be a revote for the leadership of the board and there is a group of four that often votes the same way and I don’t expect that to change. I’m at a loss to make any meaningful guesses. This doesn’t mean we won’t be able to hire an effective commissioner. It’s a challenging job. I’ve been around long enough to know that if we pick a commissioner who doesn’t have the respect of the state’s school districts, the districts will do whatever they can to ignore what the board has done. Until this year, we had at least three board members who had been on school board members. In that environment you learn to be effective. You learn to work through the superintendent or the commissioner. You don’t micromanage. That’s really hard to do. It took me a while to learn my role. Maybe it’s a philosophical difference of how you work as board.

State board member Debra Scheffel, R-Parker, said in an interview:

We always hate to see good people leave. Marcia has served with distinction. We appreciate her service. We do have different opinions about how to accomplish reform in education. It’s good to have those disagreements and robust discussions. We represent different constituencies. Having those conversations in public is healthy. I think what is happening is that the reforms that have been passed are really kicking in. And parents and teachers are really seeing the intricacies of these reforms. Implementing something on the front end is all idealistically. When they actually begin, problems begin to surface. We’re seeing the details in how these things work in reality and not just in the abstract. That accounts for the chaffing that appears to be happening on the board. This really has been a consequence of where were are in the timeline of the initiates. I hope we get a board member who is ready to engage in a rigorous discourse around the important issues of public education. Again, I will miss Marcia and I wish her well.

State board member Val Flores, D-Denver, said in an interview:

This is so sad. I really like Marcia. I had no idea. She was a great moderate. And she had all that experience. I’m going to miss her. My head’s spinning right now. I didn’t expect the commissioner to resign. I’m concerned about all the people who have left [the department]. Yes, I’m worried aboout the department and of course the board right now. I think this change might have been to much to [Marcia]. I wasn’t expecting to come on board and have [Commissioner Robert Hammond] retire. It’s a lot on the board’s plate right now. I have respect for my fellow board members. And I think we’re all trying to do the best we can. And I’m very sorry to see Marcia leave.

State board member Pam Mazanec, R-Larkspur, said in an email statement: 

I was surprised by her resignation, and she’s entitled to her opinion about the board. I sincerely appreciate her service and I wish her all the best.

State Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and former State Board of Education chair, said in an interview:

Marcia has been a steadfast champion of students and improving education in Colorado for a long time starting back when she was a teacher and her time on her local school board. I certainly appreciated the time we had shoulder to shoulder when she was vice chair and I was chairman. I’m sure her voice won’t go away. That wouldn’t be in Marcia’s nature.

Van Schoales, executive director of A+Denver, said in an interview: 

Marcia did a remarkable job as chair. We gave her a game changer award last year from A+ because of her leadership as it related to standards assessment and being supportive of schools and districts that were making improvements and holding those that were not accountable Obviously this has huge implications for the state. Without knowing exactly what will happen, I’m guessing that [Republican] Steve Durham will become chair. With that happening, it’s unclear as to where CDE is going to go in terms of the commissioner search. And it’s not clear as to whether CDE will take on the federal government [on issues including waivers and testing]. This is the demarcation line. We’re now going to enter a new era. More important than the appointment of a new commissioner is Marcia stepping down.

Bruce Caughey, the executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, said in an interview:

When I think about Marcia – she was such a stabilizing force on the state board – and I think we’re going to miss her moderate viewpoint. In her words – how much she cares about public education. She gets it, deeply, because she was a longtime teacher.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said in an email statement: 

CEA members across Colorado salute Marcia Neal today for her dedicated service to public education. She was a great advocate for the students, parents and educators she represented on the State Board of Education and we will miss her thoughtful approach to serious, complex issues. We thank Marcia for her leadership and wish her the very best in her future endeavors.

Jen Walmer, the state director of Democrats for Education Reform in Colorado, in an email statement:

DFER-CO was greatly disappointed to hear of Marcia Neal’s resignation from the State Board of Education this morning. While we sit on opposite sides of the political fence, we were strong allies around maintaining high levels of accountability, standards and assessments. We applaud her years of service for Colorado’s kids and we also echo her words in her resignation letter that we hope the State Board will put kids interests first, instead of their own, and get back to working together as a team.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said in an interview:

Rumors were strong and had been for a while that Marcia would be deciding to step down. But Marcia has been a great friend of local school boards. She walked in the shoes of a teacher and then also as a local school board member. While serving on her local board, she was a member of CASB’s legislative committee for a number of years. Her dedication to public education and her straightforward thinking was never tainted by political or personal ambitions. And we all will miss her and wish her well. The board is facing some major decisions, and those decisions will affect the direction of public education in the state. I think everybody will be watching closely and will be very hopeful that the board comes together and makes good decisions.

Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, in an email statement:

Colorado Succeeds and the state’s business leaders thank Marcia Neal for her service to the State Board of Education. Colorado’s kids benefitted from her wisdom as a teacher and thoughtful policymaker dedicated to working on both sides of the aisle. In particular, we applaud her for her commitment to early literacy, tenure reform, and graduation guidelines. The state’s education system is better today thanks to Marcia’s contributions.

Leslie Colwell, vice president of K-12 education initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said in an interview:

I think – it was unexpected and really unfortunate — Marcia has been an advocate for children her entire career, and she took incredibly seriously the board’s main duty of supporting student learning. She’s always been a strong supporter of high standards and I think she’s always been looked to by colleagues and partners like the Colorado Children’s Campaign as a really thoughtful and moderate voice on education issues. She was willing to work across the aisle to do what’s right for kids. We’re sad to see her go.